Modals to Express Habits

Modals to express habits: WILL, WOULD, USED TO

Let’s revise modals to express habits in present and in past.

Exam in Mind Level B1 / B2

Will for Present Habits

Will + infinitive can be used when we wish to emphasize actions that are characteristic/predictable of a person, habits and tendencies.
Will = tend to:

When you ask Dad for money, he’ll always say “no” at first. He’s strange – he’ll sit for hours without saying anything.

Will is used to emphasise the characteristics of a person rather than describing the person himself or herself:

A friend will always help you. (this is one of the characteristics of a friend)

Use will to describe present habits and behaviour (both good and bad):

She’ll tell you everything she has done during the day, even if you’re not interested. He’ll always bring me flowers. She’ll tell you all about her life even if you’re not interested. He will always wake up early.

Will is used to describe habits not states.

Would and Used to for past habits


We can use would + infinitive to talk about a habit or repeated action in the past:

When I was a student, we would often have a drink after class on a Friday. When I lived in Italy, we would go to a little restaurant near our house. My father would take me fishing every Saturday.

We can use would + infinitive to talk about repeated past actions that don’t happen any more:

Every Saturday I would go on a long bike ride. My dad would read me amazing stories every night at bedtime.

Would for past habits is slightly more formal than used toIt is often used in stories. We don’t normally use the negative or question form of would for past habits.

Note that we don’t use would + infinitive to talk about states in the past. So, if we’re talking about the past, we CAN’T say: I would live in Scotland. I would have long hair.

would‘ + base verb has a very similar meaning to ‘used to‘. However, there is an important difference between ‘would’ and ‘used to’. ‘Used to‘ can be used to talk about past states as well as past repeated actions and habits, but ‘would‘ is only used to talk about past habits. ‘Would‘ is not used to talk about past states.

When I was younger, I used to paint for 2 hours every day – correct – this is a past repeated action or habit, so ‘used to’ is acceptable here.
When I was younger, I would paint for 2 hours every day – correct – this is a past repeated action or habit, so ‘would’ is acceptable here.

I used to be a painter. – correct – this is a past state – ‘used to’ is acceptable here.
I would be a painter. – wrong – this is a past state – ‘would’ is not acceptable here.

If a past action happened only once, ‘used to‘ can not be used.

would and used to compared

used to

  • for actions and states
  • used with stative verbs
  • negative: didn’t use to
  • questions: Did (you) use to…?
  • used more often


  • for an event that hapened many times
  • more formal
  • cannnot be used with stative verbs
  • no negative or question

In spoken English modals to express habits may be stressed to emphasise the annoyance at a habit:

He will turn up late.
They wouldn’t listen to me.

Other expressions about habits

  • To express annoyance in present we tend to use the present continuous + always, keeps + ing or will keep + ing:
    My sister is always telling me what to do. He keeps texting me. They will keep reminding me to go and visit them. They will keep nagging me to go and visit them.
  • Use past continuous + always, kept +ing and would keep + ing to express annoyance speaking about habits in the past:
    They were always complaining. We kept asking for a refund, but we were ignored. He would keep going on about his brother. It drove me mad.
  • Use keep on (продовжувати) to emphasise that the action is repeated frequently:
    Sorry, I keep on forgetting your name! She kept on talking after I told her to be quiet. You just have to keep on trying.
  • Use tend to (схилятися до) to describe typical states:
    She tends to shout a lot. My parents tended to be very laid-back. She tends to be rather shy in new company. People tend to eat more in winter. I tend to forget things unless I mark them down. When I’m tired, I tend to make mistakes. I tend to wear the jacket and skirt separately rather than as a suit.
  • be inclined to – бути схильним до
    The problem is that neither of you is inclined to compromise at the moment. Generally speaking, I’m inclined to agree with you. I’m inclined to trust him. He was inclined to agree with them. Andy is inclined to act first and think later.
  • have an inclination to – мати схильність до
    They have an inclination to preserve their own power.
  • have a tendency to – мати тенденцію до
    He has a tendency to be very critical, and this makes him unpopular with colleagues.
  • be prone to – бути схильним до (likely to do, get or suffer from something)
    As a child, he was prone to ear infections. I’ve always been prone to headaches. He was prone to depression even as a teenager. She’s prone to exaggerate, that’s for sure. I’m prone to falling asleep in front of the TV in the evenings.
  • As a rule, I – Як правило, я
    As a rule I don’t go to the office on Saturday morning.
  • Nine times out of ten, I … – Дев’ять разів із десяти, я…
    Nine times out of ten I just skip breakfast and have a coffee.

Have practice in using modals to express habits.

Task 1. Add the correct word/phrase for the following:

1. On Sunday mornings I ____ get up and go for a run.

2. Before I got a car I ____ wait on bus stops for hours.

3. My mum ____ always bake a cake if we are visiting.

4. He____ forgetting his keys at work.

5. She ____ employ attractive young men.

6. My father____ always bring us presents if he was away for long.

Task 2. Choose the correct answer.

  1. When I was a child, we _______________ in London.

    a. would live
    b. used to live
    c. Either one is possible.

  2. I __________ a cat called Thomas.

    a. would have
    b. used to have
    c. Either one is possible.

  3. I ______________ wear glasses.

    a. used to
    a. would
    c. Either one is possible.

  4. I ____________ hate English lessons!

    a. would
    b. used to
    c. Either one is possible.

  5. I _____________ fall asleep or draw pictures in my exercise book.

    a. would
    b. used to
    c. Either one is possible.

  6. After school we _____________ play in the park.

    a. would
    b. used to
    c. Either one is possible.

  7. I __________________ like football then but I like it now.

    a. wouldn’t
    b. didn’t used to
    c. didn’t use to

  8. At weekends we __________________ go fishing in a lake near my house.

    a. would
    b. used to
    c. Either one is possible.

  9. ______________ get into trouble with your teachers when you were at school?
    a. Did you used to

    b. Did you use to

  10. You can use ‘used to’ to talk about …

    a. past habits (actions
    b. past states
    c. past habits (actions) and past states

  11. You can use ‘would’ to talk about…

    a. past habits (actions)
    b. past states
    c. past habits (actions) and past states

  12. We used to have a cat when we lived in London.
    a. You could also use the past simple here.
    b. You couldn’t use the past simple here.
  13. We’d go for long walks and pick wild flowers.

    a. You could also use the past simple here.
    b. You couldn’t use the past simple here.

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