Thursday, July 24, 2008

It used to be. Or not be. Or not used. It's no use.

I've become very puzzled by the strangest word in the English language. I'm sitting here editing the manuscript of Jimmy Coates: Power, which is coming out on October 1st, and I've stumbled across 'use' one too many times.

In this instance, I'm not sure whether it should be 'use' or 'used'. It's such an odd word. Not so much in its usual context, such as, 'What are you going to use that for?' but more in the context where it doesn't really mean anything in itself. For example, 'I used to live here.' Or, 'It used to be nothing but fields as far as the eye could see.'

Now, I'm OK with that usage (haha!), but I've come a cropper with this line: 'Didn't it use to be green?'

Should it be, 'Didn't it used to be green?'

I know when you say it you can't really hear a 'd' on the end, and it's not a particularly correct sentence anyway, but people do say things like that. (Especially about the colour green.) But a correct sentence would be, 'This used to be green,' then surely the colloquial question must be, 'Didn't it used to be green?'

So which is correct? Or, more importantly, which used to be correct? Or which one should I use? Can you be useful to me now?


But seriously, which one is it?


Anonymous said...

Used, definitely. I think in the end you probably answered your own question there!

solitude said...

I know there used to be a lot of rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford so I’ll quote from the OED. My copy is a little old, about 25 BC (before Coates).

“Did or had in the past (but no longer) as a customary practice or state (I used to be an archaeologist; it used not (or did not use) to rain so often).

I used to use used in a different context but now I use used for any useful usage especially in usury where the use of used used to be in the legal usage.


Val said...

Definitely 'used' as in 'Used it not to be green?' otherwise cut to the simple - 'Wasn't it green before?'. I think 'd's are getting dropped all over the place, such as 'I better go to bed' so perhaps there needs to be a save the d campaign.