Persistent error in French to English

It is incorrect to say ‘in the past I USE to’. It has to be ‘in the past I used to’. Please Duo Lingo. Fix this. Explain it to Site Surfer too. I have a screen image if you want it.

September 7, 2019


I haven't found any that were grammatically incorrect--they seem to say "used to" and "use to" in the right ways--but I've seen plenty awkward English translations. They insist on "applying "used to" or "use to" in many situations in which it is unnecessary and undesirable.

Example: Il savait parler. (duolingo translation: he used to know how to speak. What I write: he knew how to speak. duolingo's translation is not incorrect, but it seems clunky to me.)

Example: Mamie, qu'est-ce que tu faisais quand tu étais jeune ? (duolingo translation: Grandma, what did you use to do when you were young? what I write: Grandma, what did you do when you were young? again, duolingo is not wrong, but this one seems particularly awkward.)

My translations are accepted but the duolingo-approved suggested alternative is invariably shown as "another correct" sentence. They weren't always accepted, but after a year and a half of reporting I think I have hit all the "used/use to" sentences enough that they're now accepted. They come in waves. Sometimes I get 10 or 15 email messages per day from duolingo saying that my sentences are now accepted. Sometimes weeks go by and I don't hear anything.

I think these constructions just reflect the vernacular of the contributor. You could assume that they want to emphasize the imperfect mood, which is why they prefer the used/use to constructions, but I think that there's more going on given the other awkward translations I've seen. Here's one I had yesterday:

haha. duolingo is a big fan of "a lot", more so in the French course than in others. That's the sort of thing you just have to report, give the translation it wants when it comes up again, and move on. If you find any that insists on used/use to when a grammatically-correct alternative exists, report it.

If you find any that are genuinely incorrect--"used to" where they should have said "use to" or vice-versa--then report those as well. Be sure to use the report feature at the bottom of the page. Posting about it here will not initiate the process of making it correct. Even if a contributor happens to be cruising this board (which happens once in a great while) he'll just tell you to use the report feature when it comes up again.

September 7, 2019

So true! Translating "beaucoup", I have given up on using anything except "a lot" (which sounds very informal to my native English ears). Any other English word seems not to be accepted.

My latest peeve is "an ice cream". Duo does accept me translating "une glace" as just "ice cream", but always gives 'another correct answer' as "an ice cream". Again, in my little corner of southern Canada, we do not say "he was eating an ice cream", we say "he was eating ice cream".

September 8, 2019

I had an 11th grade English teacher who absolutely would not abide "a lot" in any essay. "A lot is where you park your car!" she would say. It really stuck with me and I stopped using the phrase altogether (except to mean "a lot" as in the narrowly-defined noun). I used many for discrete objects (people, cars, beakers, fingers) and much for continuous quantities (water, milk, pressure, etc.)

Fast forward three decates: I discovered duolingo. I was punished for not saying "a lot". Well, not punished, since it only means that I have to re-type the sentence. Let's say I get extra practice. ;)

I don't think "a lot" is considered slang any more. I see the phrase used in fairly prestigious publications (National Geographic, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker, to name a few), but I have not yet seen it in a peer-reviewed article. I just think it is odd that it is actually preferred by duolingo over more standard phrasing.

The ice cream thing is weird too. I notice "a coffee" more often. I think in French and Spanish it is common to say un café, but in English (at least in Pennsylvania) I don't hear people saying "a coffee". I hear people say "a cup of coffee" or even just "a cup" (coffee seems to be universally understood here, just as "a pint" is understood to mean beer or ale.)

But, hey the price is right. We probably shouldn't complain too much. This is really an excellent resource considering that it's free.

September 8, 2019

"A lot" is good for non-native speakers of English, as they don't have to bother with trying to figure if they're supposed to say many or much. So it's unsurprising to see it preferred on a language-learning site that tries to teach the basics of the language.

That said, I hope you report any example where they don't accept the alternative "many" or "much".

September 8, 2019

The sentence iself sounds weird and heavy (lourdingue in French) : il y aura beaucoup de nuages, alors il fera froid .. , even if the meaning has no importance. The sky can be cloudy without cold !

September 8, 2019

haha, after "the butterfly wants me to take him to the museum" (portuguese) and "Help! The horse is eating the holy potato!" (german), I don't get surprised at weird or illogical sentences. It's the awkward wording that bothers me.

September 8, 2019

I think they are following the rule that if you use DID in the sentence you say "use" not "used"

September 7, 2019

You only use "use" if you are negating - as in "I used to be noisy but I didn't use to care". "I use to" and "I did use to" are both incorrect.

Strange but true: Lots of people in the US use "I use to", and lots of people in the UK say "i didn't used to".

All I can say is there, their, we all make mistakes ;-)

(I know - deliberate!)

September 7, 2019

Also in questions:

  • Did you use to be a teacher?

This is because the auxiliary "did" puts the sentence in past tense so it's wrong to also put the main verb in the past. Here's an example without using "use to" :

  • You danced yesterday.

  • You didn't dance yesterday.

  • Did you dance yesterday?

Here are some more links but they're useless because people simply refuse to accept the fact that they're wrong:

September 7, 2019

True - I missed that one!

September 7, 2019

But the same happens in affirmative statements. You did dance. You did use to. Right?

September 8, 2019

You're right, the so-called past emphatic tense also uses it.

September 8, 2019

FranMe ..1. you cannot say "use to" in this context it should be "used to". "Use to" should be said in the context of utilisation e.g. I use an axe to chop wood. 2. "you danced yesterday" has a different meaning than "you used to dance" - the former was a single/short term action in the past whereas "you used to dance" refers to something ongoing over a longer period of time in the past

September 8, 2019

You completely missed FranM2's point: with the helper verb "did" the correct English is "use to."

I "did park" the car, not I "did parked" the car.
I "did walk" the dog, not I "did walked" the dog.
I "did dance" at the party, not I "did danced" at the party.
I "did use" to go to the mall, not I "did used" to go to the mall.

This is basic English grammar.

The problem is "use to" and "used to" sound pretty much the same in the American dialect, so some people don't realize they are two different (but obviously related) expressions.

September 8, 2019

Nope ! You only say in English “I did park the car” when you are disputing someone asserting that you didn’t park the car ( and in speech you would emphasise “did”). If you are just making a statement of fact or narrative, then you would just say “I parked the car”.

Whether or not some people can’t hear the phonetic difference between ‘use’ and ‘used’ is irrelevant; you cannot use them interchangeably in English . Also ‘Use’ can never be be used as an adverb in English

September 9, 2019

Thanks for the comments. I have learnt something from this. So appreciate your answers. :) When the word 'did' or 'didn't' is in the sentence then 'use to' is correct.

September 8, 2019

Linda , sorry that isn’t correct - see my above post - your statement is correct if you lose the word ‘to’ from ‘use to’ but only in the context of using something e.g I didn’t use a stencil to make the pattern’. But when referring to something you did or didn’t do in the past but no longer do it’s always “used” never “use” ie you cannot say either of “ I didn’t use to go to church” or “ I use to paint “. Hope that helps

September 9, 2019
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