used to stay in Greece for 2 months ['Used to' for time period]

NevenaT

Senior Member
Serbian/Croatian
Could someone please help me with this definition for the usage of 'used to'.
It says in a book called Grammar Lab (B1/2) that 'used to' and 'would' are never used with time periods. As an example they used:
'He was in Greece for 2 years.' - correct
'He used to be in Greece for 2 years.' - not correct

However, if there is another adverbial modifier, as in the following example, to me it sounds perfectly natural to use these two instead of past simple:
'I used to/would study for 3 hours every day when I was at college.'
or
'I used to/would stay in Greece for 2 months every summer.'

These are still time periods.

Can some native speaker please explain!
 
  • The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Yes, you are correct, and you can even say things like "I used to be in Greece for two years at a time." Meaning that there was a time during which you repeatedly spent intervals of two years in Greece.
     

    NevenaT

    Senior Member
    Serbian/Croatian
    @The Newt but not with 'at the time'?
    'We used to go to Greece for 2 months at the time.' - not correct because this is a specific period of time in the past (though this still sounds acceptable to me if it was some prolonged time period, here I'm referring to 'the time' when I say time period)
    'We went to Greece for 2 months at the time.' - this would be acceptable, of course the context is necessary, let's say-at the time when the children were young

    'At a time' would mean every time we went to Greece (we would stay for 2 months-in this case).

    Thank you a lot!
    I'm sorry if I'm making this painstaking for you.
     

    NevenaT

    Senior Member
    Serbian/Croatian
    Actually I think I understand, it's because 'at the time' always refers to a specific point in the past, as if you said 'yesterday' or 'in 1999'.
    Now in the same book it says that 'used to/would' are not used for 'a number of times we did something':
    'We visited Poland twice last year.'

    However, we can say, or at least I think we can:
    'We used to/would visit Poland twice a year when we were kids.' - because it was a repeated action

    I would say that they should have inserted 'the exact number of times' to make it more specific!
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I would say that they should have inserted 'the exact number of times' to make it more specific!
    I don't follow you there. "Twice" is "the exact number of times".

    We visited Poland twice last year.:tick:

    We used to/would visit Poland twice a year when we were kids.:tick:

    The first sentence tells us about a couple of visits. The second tells us of a habitual action: "We" must have visited Poland for several/many years running, perhaps throughout their childhood.

    I ate ten bars of chocolate last year. (That doesn't mean I eat it regularly or habitually. It's just the total number of times.)

    I used to eat two bars of chocolate every Sunday/nearly every day/once a month when I lived in Switzerland last year
    . (I had a regular habit of eating chocolate.)
     

    NevenaT

    Senior Member
    Serbian/Croatian
    Thank you @velisarius.

    It is said in that grammar book to use past simple when we have 'a number of times' something was done. It would be more precise to say if we have 'the exact number of times', at least in my humble opinion.
    Could we say:
    'I used to/would work in the garden a number of times/many a time while living in the countryside.' - I am not sure, it should be correct since the meaning is 'often/regularly' but it sounds wrong to me? The more I think about it though, the more correct it seems, I hope my mind is not just playing tricks on me! :)
     
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    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    'I used to/would work in the garden a number of times/many a time manys the time/while living in the country countryside.
    :confused:
    I don't think either of these time expressions is entirely compatible with the idea of 'used to/would work'.
    I think this has something to do with essential idea of 'used to/would' to express a habitual, regular action. A phrase which emphasises the regularity is fine: every day/ each summer/ once a week.
    Time phrases like 'a number of times, every now and then, many a time, sometimes, occasionally,' and so on, call for the simple past, it seems to me.

    -We used to go to our grannie's for tea every Tuesday after school, because she lived within walking distance of the school. Our dad would collect us on his way home from work. Grandma used to give us all sorts of amazingly delicious food that my mother strongly disapproved of, like sliced white bread, fish paste sandwiches, with the crusts removed and cut into dainty triangles, like real ladies with perms eat in Fenwick's, the poshest department store in town, the nearest you could get to London without travelling 350 miles. Then there would be the shop-bought 'fresh cream' cakes, which used (usually :confused:) to be followed by tinned peaches and evaporated milk, the height of luxury in those dismal, immediate post-war days. There was never anything/would be nothing both brown and edible on Grandma's tea-table on Tuesdays.
     
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    NevenaT

    Senior Member
    Serbian/Croatian
    That is the definition of 'used to' - used for regular and habitual past actions and situations. I just thought so since 'a number of times' also denotes that something is done quite frequently, but it does sound wrong.
    Why is the countryside not correct?
    Even BBC used it in one headline, I am not saying mistakes are impossible, but I think I have heard it many times... Is living in the countryside healthier?
    @Hermione Golightly
     
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