Used to: Boxing Day

Habits from the past that have stopped are talked about with ‘used to + infintive’. Look out for examples in the text and then read the ‘used to’ grammar explanation after the article.

December 26th is a national holiday in the UK and its name is Boxing Day. It might have started around 800 years ago, but nobody is sure about the exact date. During the Middle Ages, the day after Xmas was when alms boxes (collection boxes in which people used to donate money to the local poor) used to be opened and all the money collected over the last year used to be be given to the poor. Boxing day also used to be called Offering Day.

The Romans brought this tradition of collection boxes to Britain. However, they didn’t use to collect money for charity. They used to bet the collected money in games that they played during their winter Saturnalia celebrations.

The earliest boxes didn’t use to be box-shaped. They were rounder in shape and had a slit in the top (like a piggy bank). They didn’t use to be made of wood as you may expect; they were earthenware pots. They could only be opened by smashing them. In the 17th Century, it was traditional for apprentices to ask the customers in their shop to donate spare change in the run-up to Xmas. On Boxing Day, the apprentices used to eagerly smash open the boxes…and this is where the expression ‘having a smashing time’ comes from (this means ‘having a great time’)

In the recent past, retailers used to start their end-of-year sales on Boxing Day. This used to be the best day of the year in terms of revenue as young people epecially were desperate to get out of the house and spend their Xmas money. However, since the rise of internet shopping and the economic crisis of 2008, shops have started having their sales even before Xmas as they desperately try to win back customers.

So with the last minute shopping late into the night on Xmas Eve and an early start to the shopping orgy on Boxing Day, now there is only the 24-hour break on Xmas Day when you can avoid retail stress at Xmas!

Used to + infintive

People used to donate money to the local poor
Boxing day used to be called Offering Day.
Retailers used to start their sales on Boxing Day
This tells us that a REPEATED ACTION (a habit) from the past has stopped now.
Boxing day used to be called Offering Day.
(It’s not called Offering Day anymore)

Retailers used to start their sales on Boxing Day
(Retailers don’t start their sales on Boxing Day now. This action stopped. Now they start earlier, before Xmas.)

Negative: didn’t use to + infinitive

The Romans didn’t use to collect money for charity
The boxes didn’t use to be made of wood

Notice that with the negative form, the ‘d’ is deleted from the end of ‘used’. However, the pronunication (when you say it) is exactly the same!!!
This is the same when you ask a question…

Interrogative:  did (subject) use to  +  infinitive….?

Did the Romans use to collect money for taxes?
Did the boxes use to be made of wood?

Listen to the same pronunciation of used to/use to in every form.

(positive) He used to have long hair when he was 16.
(negative) He didn’t use to have long hair when he was 12.
(question) Did he use to have long hair when he was a child?


Common Mistakes with ‘used to’

1. I used to live in Berlin since 2009. I still live there.
(This is wrong because ‘used to’ describes something in the past that has STOPPED. In this example, the ‘living in Berlin’ is still continuing. The correct way to say it would be with the Present Perfect/Present Perfect continuous, e.g. I have been living in Berlin since 2009.)

2. He used to driving to work every day when he lived in Oxford.
(This is wrong because after ‘used to’ when describing the past, you must use the infinitive.

If you say something like…
I am used to speaking German now after living in Berlin for 3 years
(to be  +  used to  +  -ing)
This means that you are happy/comfortable with a situation now…it’s not a problem for you anymore.

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