How To Say 'Used To Be' And 'Used To' In Spanish
- Jada LòpezSpanish teacher, translator🎓 B.A., Translation and Interpreting English and Spanish, Universidad de Granada🎓 M.A., Formación de Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE), Universidad Pablo de Olavide
Passionate language teacher and translator. Wife, mother of 3 and amateur surfer.
In this quick guide, I’ll run you through how to say “used to” or “used to be” in Spanish.
These are actions or states that were habitual or ongoing in the past.
NOTE: I’m not dealing with the expression “used to” in the sense of being familiar with something, as we say in English (e.g. “I’m used to all this traffic”).
In Spanish, we use the verb acostumbrar for this so it’s completely different.
Saying “used to be” in Spanish
In Spanish, if you want to say that something or someone “used to be” a certain way, you generally use the imperfect tense of the verb ser (to be).
The imperfect tense is used for actions that were ongoing or habitual in the past.
This is “ser” in the imperfect tense (in case you’ve forgotten):
|Spanish Pronoun||Conjugation of ‘Ser’||English Equivalent|
|Yo||era||I was / I used to be|
|Tú||eras||You were / You used to be|
|Él/Ella/Usted||era||He/She/You (formal) were / He/She/You used to be|
|Nosotros/Nosotras||éramos||We were / We used to be|
|Vosotros/Vosotras||erais||You all were / You all used to be|
|Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes||eran||They/You all were / They/You all used to be|
Yo era estudiante.
Él era mi mejor amigo.
Nosotros éramos vecinos.
Note that in all of these examples, you could easily substitute “used to be” for “was/were”.
Saying “used to” for past habitual actions
The notion of “used to” as in “I used to play baseball when I was young” also uses the imperfect tense, but the verb changes depending on the action you’re describing. This usage of the imperfect tense is to describe actions that were habitual or repeated in the past.
For example, the verb jugar (to play) would be conjugated in the imperfect as follows:
|Spanish Pronoun||Conjugation of ‘Jugar’||English Equivalent|
|Yo||jugaba||I used to play|
|Tú||jugabas||You used to play|
|Él/Ella/Usted||jugaba||He/She/You (formal) used to play|
|Nosotros/Nosotras||jugábamos||We used to play|
|Vosotros/Vosotras||jugabais||You all used to play|
|Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes||jugaban||They/You all used to play|
Yo jugaba al béisbol cuando era joven.
Differences between “used to be” and “used to”
- When you say “used to be,” you use the imperfect tense of the verb ser because you’re talking about a past state or condition that is no longer true.
- When you say “used to” as in “I used to play baseball,” you’re using the imperfect tense of a verb to describe an action that was repeated or habitual in the past.
Both usages involve the imperfect tense, but the main difference lies in whether you are talking about a state/condition (verb “to be”) or a repeated/habitual action (other verb).
The phrase solía ser is another way to express “used to be” in Spanish, but it adds a nuance of contrast between the past and the present or future.
The verb soler is often used to express habitual actions or states in the past (usually translated as ‘to tend to’ or ‘to be accustomed to’ on its own), and when combined with ser, it emphasizes that something or someone was typically, habitually, or commonly a certain way in the past (but not anymore).
- Soler: A modal verb used to express habituality.
- Ser: The verb ‘to be’.
When you combine them into solía ser, it translates into “used to be”, but with an added layer of emphasis on the habitual nature or the typicality of the past state.
You can also combine soler with another verb in the infinitive form (e.g. solía ir - “I used to go”).
You’re making it pretty clear that what you’re describing was the norm at that point in time.
Here’s the conjugation of soler that you’ll need:
|Él / Ella||Suele||Solía|
The present tense form is used for present habitual actions (e.g. “I usually eat”, “I generally go”).
Él solía ser muy tímido.
Yo solía ser vegetariano.
So while both era and solía ser can be translated as “used to be,” solía ser often adds an extra layer of meaning, emphasizing the typicality or habituality of the past state or condition.
You can usually use either the past imperfect form of a verb, or soler + infinitive. The main difference is that by using soler, you’re indicating that the action (or state) is no longer the case.
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