Grammar Wednesday

The “She Lobs One Over the Fence” Edition!

I never claimed to have all the answers (hell, I never even claimed to have MOST of them), and I’ve come across a stumper that I just don’t have time right now to look up, so I’m sending it out to you, my dear friends and fellow word-freaks.  Why is it that we say “used to” and “supposed to” instead of saying “use to” or “suppose to”?  Inquiring freshman – who insist on using the wrong tenses – and their teacher – who didn’t have a ready answer for the query* – want to know.

*My quick-and-dirty answer was that “used to” has to be past tense – you USED to do something, but you don’t anymore.  I posited that “supposed to” is subjunctive – you’re SUPPOSED to be doing something, but you may or may not actually do it.  Was I close?

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3 Comments

Filed under colleagues, Grammar, Questions

3 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. I don’t know the right answer, but my guess is that “supposed” is the participle form, not the past tense. I think that is what you were getting at with your explanation (though your justification is different.)

    I think your explanation of “used to” is probably correct. There is a verb in Spanish, “soler” that can mean “to be accustomed to doing something” if you use it in present tense, but if you want to express the equivalent of our “used to” you have to use it in the past (well, imperfect, to be more precise, but still.)

  2. John

    They both seem to be the simple past tense, not the subjunctive or a participle.

    MWDEU: “Use was once commonly employed as an intransitive verb meaning “to be in the habit or custom; be wont” … But this sense of use now occurs only in the past tense with to

    Perhaps they are turning into modals. Just like can and will used to be full verbs, but gradually lost inflection, so with useta and supposeta.

  3. Hey, I have an idea for a Grammar Wednesday. Is there a way I can send you a message or should I just leave it in a comment?

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