I Used to versus I am Used to in English Learning

I’ve adapted this blogpost to be useful to English learners practising the difference between:

  • “I use [something] to/for”
  • I am used to”
  • I used to”

This can be a tricky grammar point because, confusingly, neither “I used to” or “I am used to” is about utilizing something, and neither is one the past tense of the other. 

“I used to” is about something you did habitually in the past but don’t still do.

“I am used to” is to have familiarity with in the present, there a process of becoming familiar implied in the phrase. (A diabetic person may be used to injections, a police horse used to traffic). 

However, this blog is not a full grammar lesson. Rather, it’s a support to help you see examples of these phrases in a real (only slightly exaggerated) context. This will support any the English lesson introducing these different forms while (hopefully) being an interesting read for ESL learners.

It is a blog I first wrote about exploring a snowy day here in Scotland, and wishing for some new, old-fashioned technology.

As you read, compare the way I use “I am used to”, “I use to/for” and “I used to” in the text.

They are presented with clear differences within the context of the writing.


Artist Talk

Yesterday,  we had a lovely fluffy fresh layer of snow in Crieff, Perthshire, and with no online English classes scheduled, I took my camera for a wander.

Snow is quite unusual in this part of Scotland. As we have only a few snowy days per year, we aren’t used to it so everything grinds to a halt, cars get buried, while the kids go sledging.

As long as the snow stays clean and fresh looking, we love it!

English for Creative Careers | Crieff Market Park | Snowy Crieff

Beyond the Surface

It’s easy to take scenic snow shots of places looking pretty.

I took a few for the Blue Noun Instagram feed where I promote visiting Perthshire, Scotland as a destination for English immersion language holidays. I’m used to putting a few images up every week and capturing interesting scenes that depict Scotland. This is one of my favourite weekly tasks.

However, I as a creative thinker, I am not just interested in ‘pretty’. I wanted to see what the snow revealed about our town.

We get so used to seeing the things in our environment that they become overly familiar. A blanket of snow can give a whole new way of looking.

I ended up taking shots of traffic lights.

I liked the way the lights shone like jewels in the peculiar half-light we get at this time of year in Scotland.

Photo Editing

I selected a few close-ups and then spent a bit of time running digital filters across them.

First I used Inshot and Canva to edit the images (including adding a fisheye lens effect).

Then, I used Photoshop for framing and formating the images on a page.

It took a couple of hours to get 6 images parsed down and abstracted as I would like to print them. While I am used to processing images like this, I am still quite slow as I fuss around a bit too much, taking time on the design and the details.

It’s a relatively new computer and I’m not used to the trackpad, which doesn’t help!

A Mission

I know exactly how to print them, in an ideal world: I’m in love with the aesthetic of Riso printing!

Language School Riso Printing

My passion for Riso printing stems from working with a filmmaking collective in Brussels, called PTTL. They had a Risograph printer, which they used to make artist prints to sell to raise funds.

It looked like a big crappy photocopier, but the printed results were absolutely sublime: colour slightly bleeding into each other, and thirsty thick paper soaking up the ink in luscious colours.

In modern culture, people are used to slicker, shinier images.

However, I know a glossy printed photobook wouldn’t carry off the effect that I’m chasing with these particular images. I desire something more retro and lo-fi. 

A look that used to be ubiquitous in the 80s Zine culture.  

Language School in Limbo

My heart is set on getting a secondhand Riso printer for our language school.

Unfortunately, it’s got to wait until we have a healthy business again,  BREXIT followed by COVID years have been brutal.

Business didn’t use to be so bad!. 

Language School Riso Printing

I have plans for this non-traditional language school, and book production, printmaking and Riso printing all feature.

My ambition for our language hub is to design and print zines as part of short residencies. This would develop English skills through real collaborations. (And make brilliant souvenirs to take home!)

To learn English deeply, you need to be immersed in the language in interesting ways and get used to speaking it across a variety of contexts.

Our English language holidays are not just about seeing the sights of Scotland, but stretching your language skills across such a wide range of contexts.

Old Technology for a New Language School

We do embrace modern technology for teaching, I promise!

But I used to do a lot of black-and-white printing, and I really miss the preciousness of developing film and prints in a darkroom. I also did a bit of printmaking at art school. All those processes feel good and familiar to me (and modern versions a bit dry). 

If we were millionaires (with endless free time), I would use my old Olympus film camera to shoot, and have a communal Riso printer in our lanugage hub for English learners and artists (our community) to make all kinds of prints and zines.

olympus camera in language school

Further Tips for Used to, I am Used to

Did you find the exception to the rule?

If did/didn’t is in the sentence, you would say use to and not used to.

And a last word of advice, while this matters in formal writing, when speaking, most people run the words used to together “useto” so much that many native speakers don’t actually know which is correct!

Accuracy is always useful, but above all, don’t let levels of English grammar like this stop you from talking!

Further Information

Want to Learn More  About Riso Printing?

Watch this amazing introduction to Riso printing.

It’s a great video for picking up English vocabulary to use to describe techniques.

Film credit Olivia and Pindot.

Need further help with English for Creative Careers? Find it here.

Here’s the grammar explained for used to / I am used to.

Discover PTTL‘s printmaking.