Ought to and Used to


In the realm of English grammar, 'ought to' and 'used to' are two commonly used constructions. While they both play significant roles in our everyday conversations, understanding when and how to use these phrases correctly can greatly enhance the precision and clarity of our communication. This tutorial aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of, first, the usage and rules surrounding 'ought to' and secondly, the application and construction of 'used to'.

'Ought To'

The modal verb 'ought to' is typically used to express obligations, advice, expectation, or probability. It is similar in meaning to 'should,' 'supposed to,' or 'had better.'

General Rule of Usage for 'Ought To'

'Ought to' is generally followed by the base form of the verb. For example, "You ought to eat your vegetables," or "He ought to return the book.". 'Ought’ is mostly used to advise or suggest something that is considered necessary or beneficial.

Examples of 'Ought To' in Sentences

  • "You ought to study for your exam."
  • "They ought to have arrived by now."
  • "She ought not to go there alone."
  • "We ought to book the tickets in advance."
  • Negative Form and Questions with 'Ought To'

    The negative form of 'ought to' is 'ought not to' or the contracted version 'oughtn’t to'. It's used to advise against doing something. In question form, 'ought to' is usually rearranged so the subject comes between 'ought' and 'to,' for instance, "Ought you to work so late?" However, this form is quite formal and is used sparingly in everyday English conversation or writing.

    'Used To'

    The phrase 'used to' is employed to refer to habits or states that existed in the past but do not exist now. It can also refer to actions that were true in the past but are no longer true.

    General Rule of Usage for 'Used To'

    'Used to' is followed by the base form of the verb. For instance, "I used to go for a walk in the morning," or, "She used to be a teacher.". The phrase 'used to' often reflects a sense of nostalgia or describes a change in circumstance or habit.

    Examples of 'Used To' in Sentences

  • "I used to play basketball when I was in high school."
  • "We used to live in New York."
  • "She used to have long hair."
  • "They used to go to the same school."
  • Negative Form and Questions with 'Used To'

    The negative form of 'used to' is 'didn't use to'. It's used to describe something that was not a habit or a fact in the past. In question form, 'did' comes at the beginning, for instance, "Did you use to play football?". However, it's also acceptable and very common to use the simple past in negative and question situations, as in "I didn't play football," or "Did you play football?".

    Common Pitfalls and Tips

    One of the most common mistakes with 'ought to' and 'used to' is the misuse of tenses. Remember, 'ought to' is a modal verb, and thus, it does not change its form according to the tense. 'Used to', in contrast, always refers to past habits or states, and should not be used to describe current situations.

    Another common pitfall lies in constructing questions and negative statements. With 'ought to', the subject presents between 'ought' and 'to', which is slightly more formal. However, 'used to' adopts the auxiliary 'did' for questions and negatives, similar to other past simple verb forms.

    When in doubt, make sure to revisit the rules and practice with example sentences. Remember, practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to mastering challenging aspects of English grammar like 'ought to' and 'used to'.


    Understanding the use of 'ought to' and 'used to' can add significant finesse to your English communication skills. This mastery requires not just understanding the rules but also consistent practice to initiate the correct usage without conscious thought. With this tutorial as your guide, you are well on your way to accomplishing this.

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