Used to + Vinfinite vs. would + Vinfinite

A case of constructional synonymy?

  • Sophia Aakjær Juul University of Copenhagen
Keywords: Construction Grammar, Habitual Past Markers, Corpus Linguistics, Distinctive Collexeme Analysis, Association Pattern Analysis, Situation Types


This present paper seeks to critically assess the common claim that habitual used to and habitual would are interchangeable, which suggests that the two markers hold the same status. The paper examines the internal factors said to constrain the use of the two markers to add to the empirical evidence obtained so far. Theoretically informed by usage-based construction grammar, the paper proposes two habitual past constructions, used to + VINFINITIVE and would + VINFINITIVE, respectively. On the basis of a corpus sample from the 2017 section of Corpus of Contemporary American English (Davies, 2016), a distinctive-collexeme analysis confirms that the two constructions display different construction-verb interaction while a semantic analysis of situation types further suggests semantic restrictions on verb interaction, and an association pattern analysis of the contextual surroundings of the two constructions further reveals that the presence of a temporal marker in the contextual surroundings seems imperative for would + VINFINITIVE to act as a marker of habitual past. Based on the findings, the claim that used to + VINFINITIVE and would + VINFINITIVE is to be used interchangeably is refuted.

Author Biography

Sophia Aakjær Juul, University of Copenhagen

Sophia Aakjær Juul, Master student of English (open profile) at the University of Copenhagen.

Research interests: Cognitive Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, Neurolinguistics and Internet Linguistics.



Baayen, R. H. (2008). Analyzing linguistic data: A practical introduction to statistics using R. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber et al. (2012). Corpus Linguistics: Investigating Language Structure and Use. Cambridge Approaches to Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Binnick, R. (2005). The Markers of Habitual Aspect in English. Journal of English Linguistics, 33(4), 339-369.
Bybee, J. (1995). Regular morphology and the lexicon. Language and Cognitive Processes, 10(5), 425-455.
Bybee, J. (2013). Usage-based Theory and Exemplar Representations of Constructions. The Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar.
Comrie, B. (1976). Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Croft, W. (2001). Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory in Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Croft, W. (2003). Lexical Rules vs. Constructions: A False Dichotomy. Motivation in Language: Studies in Honor of Gunter Raden, Cuyckens, Hubert, Berg, Thomas, Dirven, Rene, & Panther, Klaus-Uwe [Eds], 46-68. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Croft, W. (2005). Logical and Typological Arguments for Construction Grammar. Construction Grammars: Cognitive and cross-language dimensions edited by J.-O Östman & M. Fried. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Davies, M. (2016). Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Retrieved January 21, 2019,
Engberg-Pedersen, E., Boye, K. & Harder, P. (2019). Semantik. København: Samfundslitteratur.
Fillmore, C., Kay, P. & O’Connor, M. (1988). Regularity and Idiomaticity in Grammatical Constructions: The Case of Let Alone. Language 64(3), 501-538.
Goldberg, A. (1995). A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago & London: Chicago University Press.
Goldberg, A. (2006). Constructions at Work: The nature of Generalization in Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gries, S. T. (2007). Coll.analysis 3.2a. A program for R for Windows 2.x.
Gries, S. T. (2014). Coll.analysis 3.5. A Script for R to Compute/Perform Collostructional Analyses.
Gries, S. T. & Stefanowitsch, A. (2003). Collostructions: Investigating the interaction of words and constructions. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics edited by Michaela Mahlberg, 8(2), 209-243. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Hilpert, M. (2014). Construction Grammar and Its Application to English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Jensen, K. E. (2017). A great deal of evidence based on a great many instances: A usage-based comparative corpus study of two English nominal constructions. Online Proceedings of UK-CLA Meetings, 4, 249-272.
Jespersen, O. (1961). Part IV: Syntax. In A Modern English Grammar. London: Allen & Unwin.
Kuznetsova, J. (2015). Collostructional Profiling. Linguistic Profiles: Going from Form to Meaning via Statistics, 168-201: Walter de Gruyter.
Leech, G. (1987). Meaning and the English Verb. New York: Longman.
McEnery, T. & Hardie, A. (2011). Corpus Linguistics: Method, Theory and Practice. Cambridge University Press.
Michaelis, L. A. (2017). Meanings of Construction. Oxford Online Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics.
Patten, A. (2012). A model of Language structure and language change. In The English it-Cleft. A Constructional Account and a Diachronic Investigation, 79, 16-26. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter (online)
Quirk, R. & Greenbaum, S. (1972). A University Grammar of English. London: Longman
Quirk, R.; Greenbaum, S.; Leech, G. & Svartvik, J. (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. New York: Longman.
Tagliamonte, S. & Lawrence, H. (2000). I used to Dance, but I Don’t Dance Now. Journal of English Linguistics, 28(4), 324-353.
Zandvoort, R. W. (1969). A Handbook of English Grammar. London: Longmans, Green.
How to Cite
Juul, S. (2020). Used to + Vinfinite vs. would + Vinfinite. Journal of Language Works - Sprogvidenskabeligt Studentertidsskrift, 5(1), 21-37. Retrieved from