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"used to" and "used to doing" for German Speakers

A common difficulty that many German speakers have with English is correctly using the verb forms “used to” and “to be used to doing” correctly. The result is that people often incorrectly combine both;

I am used to go to work every day”. (incorrect).

To look at this we’ll take a short text about myself to show the three different forms in use:

Many of my students know that I used to live in London. I moved to Germany in 2014 and since then I have learnt how to speak German. At first it was very difficult to get used to living in a country with a different first language to my own, but now I don’t have any problems with it and can say that I am used to speaking German every day”.

So there we go, three uses of ‘used to’ meaning something slightly different each time. Let’s look at them in order to understand the differences in meaning.


Used to’.

This form is very similar to the Past Simple as it describes completed past actions. The action could be a repeated action: we used to go on holiday to France every summer" (Früher sind wir jeden Sommer nach Frankreich in den Urlaub gefahren), or a single long action: "I used to live in London" (Ich habe früher in London gelebt). It’s only ever used in the past tense.

The sentence structure for “used to” is

subject + used to + base verb

in a negative sentence it is “did not use to” or the more common “didn’t use to”.


‘to be used to doing something.

This is basically the German gewöhnt an. For example, “I am used to getting the train to work every day now” (Mittlerweile bin ich daran gewohnt, jeden Tag mit dem Zug zur Arbeit zu fahren).

The sentence structure for "be used to" is

subject + be + used to + gerund, noun or pronoun

The negative is is “be not used to” : “I am not used to getting up early every morning for my new job” (Ich bin nicht daran gewohnt, für meinen neuen Job jeden Morgen früh aufzustehen).


Get used to’.

This is basically the German sich an etwas gewöhnen, so simply the active form of ‘be used to’ For example, "I am getting used to this new computer system" (Ich gewöhne mich an dieses neue Computersystem), "I will need to get used to the new working hours". (Ich werde mich an die neuen Arbeitszeiten gewöhnen müssen). Notice that when we talk about the future, we tend to use modal verbs such as "will need to" or "will have to".

The sentence structure for "get used to" is:

subject + get + used to + gerund, noun or pronoun.

The negative of “get used to,” is “not get used to.”, most commonly expressly with the model verb "can't, "I can't get used to the new rules". (Ich kann mich nicht an die neuen Regeln gewöhnen).


Practice exercises: to think about using these sentences correctly, try answering the following questions. Try to use one form of "used to" in each answer as practice.

  1. Where did you use to work before your current job?

  2. Have you ever lived in a different city? Where did you use to live?

  3. When you lived there, did you have to get used to anything? What was it?

  4. Thinking about your current role, can you think of something that was challenging to start with, but now you are used to doing it?

  5. Can you think of a new rule/ way or working in your job that you had to get used to, what was it?

  6. Can you think of an upcoming change in your job that you will need to get used to? what is it?

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