One very common error that many people make sure their IELTS exam is to misuse the phrase ‘get used to.’ It is confused with similar grammatical items like ‘used to’ and ‘be used to’. So, how do we know what the correct phrase to use is, and under what circumstances do we use each phrase? In this article, I will explain the correct way of using these phrases with detailed examples.
USING THE PHRASE ‘GET USED TO’
The first question is what does ‘get used to’ mean? It simply means that you become acquainted with something. For example, let us consider the following sentences:
Chuck finds his job tough to manage. However, I hope that he will get used to it soon.
Bill has gotten used to the loud neighbors in our street.
From the above examples, one can figure out that the phrases ‘get used to’ or ‘gotten used to’ imply that someone has become accustomed to something. Let’s break it down and try to understand what each sentence means.
In the first sentence, the writer states that Chuck finds his job tough to manage. The expression ‘I hope that he will get used to it soon’ implies that he will eventually become familiar with the process of getting his job done. Similarly, the second sentence ‘Bill has gotten used to the loud neighbors’ implies that Bill has become familiar with the loud neighbors in his street, and hence their noisiness does not appear as something unexpected. Hence, if you get used to someone/something, it means that someone/something no longer appears as unusual or strange.
UNDERSTANDING THE ‘GET’ IN ‘GET USED TO’
The verb ‘get’ in the phrase ‘get used to’ is of immense importance. This verb can be used in all three tenses as shown below.
If we are talking in the past tense, we are implying that someone has already gotten familiar with something. Let me explain it by using an example:
The anthropology lessons really challenged me when the semester began. However, with time I got used to them. They don’t seem as bad now!
What is the writer trying to say here?
In this sentence, the writer is simply trying to point out the fact that he struggled with anthropology courses at first. However, with time he got used to them. This means that even though he struggled at first, now that he has become familiar with the courses, they do not seem troubling anymore.
More importantly, notice that the phrase ‘got used to’ is the past tense of ‘get used to’. The writer is trying to say that the process of becoming familiar with the anthropology courses has already occurred i.e. it is something that is in the past.
Now, we will move on to differentiate this from using the verb ‘get’ in the other two tenses.
By using the verb ‘get’ in the present tense, we are implying that someone is still in the process of becoming familiar with something. Here is an example:
Having spent two weeks with his father, John is now getting used to the early morning routine that his father has set for him.
As the above sentence states, the writer is telling us that John is still getting acquainted with his early morning routine. Hence, John is still in the process of ‘getting used to’ his routine which means that the process is still occurring.
Finally, by using the verb in the future tense, we are implying that someone will get acquainted with something in the future. Let’s take an example:
Give her some time, she will eventually get used to this environment.
The writer is trying to state that the girl will become familiar with the new environment. Using the future tense means the process of ‘getting used to’ will occur at some point in future.
NEGATIVE FORM OF ‘GET USED TO’
To demonstrate this, consider the statement:
This class might not get used to the new instructor; they were very comfortable with the teaching methods of the old one.
Here, the writer simply states that the class might not become familiar with the teaching methods of the new instructor. Hence, ‘not get used to’ simply means not becoming familiar with someone/something.
We can form the negative version of ‘get used to’ by saying ‘not’ and then using the appropriate form:
- They have not gotten used to their new phones.
- She will not get used to her brother’s attitude.
- They are not getting used to these early mornings.
Just be careful about where you place the word ‘not.’
DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN SIMILAR PHRASES
Get used to vs Be used to
Fundamentally, the different better ‘get used to’ and ‘be used to’ is that ‘get’ shows an on-going process and ‘be’ shows that the change has already happened. For example:
- The teacher quickly got used to his new classroom.
- The teacher was used to his new classroom.
So what is the difference here?
There is not much difference but the change in grammar makes a subtle change to the meaning. In sentence #1, we are focused on the process of the teacher getting used to his new classroom. It happened quickly, but the important thing is that it happened. In sentence #2, we don’t think much about the process.
As you can see, the phrases ‘get used to’ and ‘be used to’ are very similar to each other. Hence, using ‘be used to’ also means getting acquainted with something. Just as the verb ‘get’ can take on past, present, and future tense, so can the verb ‘be’.
(Just to jog your memory a little, the verb ‘be’ is irregular and can take on eight different forms: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been.)
The structure of these sentences should be such that the phrase ‘be used to’ precedes a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase. This will be the thing that someone is used to.
Now, let’s look at some examples. In the following sentences, you should carefully notice the verb ‘be’ and its forms and the nouns that follow the phrase ‘be used to’.
I am used to drinking black coffee.
Lily thinks Dan is weird. She is not used to seeing him this way.
Alright, so let’s break these sentences down to make it simple. As you can see, two different forms of the verb ‘be’ have been used here. In the first sentence, ‘am’ is used and in the second, ‘is’ is used. Similarly, the nouns that follow the phrase ‘be used to’ are ‘coffee’ and ‘him’.
USING THE PHRASE ‘USED TO’
What does the phrase ‘used to’ mean? It means that someone existed or something happened in the past, but that it no longer exists or happens. Let’s take an example to understand this:
Jack used to play football
This sentence simply means that Jack played football in the past but does not do so anymore.
Sentences that contain the phrase ‘used to’ will have a certain format:
SUBJECT + USED TO + VERB (BASE FORM)
Try to figure out this structure in the following examples:
- I used to smoke a lot back in college.
- Sam used to love reading books, but now she watches Netflix all day.
- Nate used to live on the Upper East Side, but now he lives in Brooklyn.
- Chris didn’t use to swim because he was scared. But now that he has overcome his fear, he has become an amazing swimmer.
As you might have figured out, all the sentences above follow a similar pattern. In the very first one, ‘I’ is the subject, followed by the phrase ‘used to’ and the verb ‘smoke’. Similarly, in the second sentence ‘Sam’ in the subject and ‘love’ is the verb. ‘Nate’ is the subject in the third sentence, with the verb being ‘live’. All the verbs used are in their base form.
Here is another example:
Dan used to reading to his mother. (Incorrect)
Why is this sentence incorrect? ‘Dan’ is the subject and it is followed by ‘used to’. However, the verb used here is incorrect and is not in its base form. The correct form of the verb should be ‘read’. So the correct sentence would be:
Dan used to read to his mother.
USING THE CORRECT PHRASE IN THE CORRECT CONTEXT
Understanding the meaning of each phrase is the key to using them in the correct context. In the examples and descriptions mentioned above, the meaning of each phrase has been identified and the correct context to use them has been explained. For the phrases that have different meanings, both phrases should be carefully used. Any mix up in the use of the phrases could result in grammatical errors and impact the effectiveness of one’s essay. Apart from misused phrases, using incorrect tenses and verbs can lead to further grammatical errors. Hence, while writing an essay, extreme caution needs to be taken so that such errors are completely avoided.
‘Get Used To’ in IELTS Speaking
We might need to use the phrase “get used to” in IELTS speaking. This is quite likely in part one, where you will be asked a range of questions about personal matters. For example:
Q: Do you remember your first day of school?
A: Not really. I remember parts of my first day of secondary school but not my first actual day of school. I was very shy, though, so I imagine it was quite frightening but I quickly got used to it and made friends with my classmates.
Q: Do you prefer watching movies on your phone or at a cinema?
A: Oh, definitely at a cinema. I really like the whole experience of going to the cinema and I am only just starting to get used to watching movies on a device, but I still don’t really like it much.
…and one more piece of advice: