For some reason, whenever I hear someone say “in former times”, I instantly hear the Robin Hood theme song in my head. Germans seem to use it very often when speaking English, but why? And what’s the alternative?

In German, you can use früher (literally earlier) or even in früheren Zeiten (literally in earlier times) to talk about something that happened quite regularly in the past, or about something that was different in the past than it is now.

Although there’s actually nothing wrong with using in former times in English, you won’t hear it much in spoken English. That’s because we have another, very widely used expression: used to.

People used to live in caves.
When I was at school, I used to get up at 7 o’clock.

The pronunciation of used in used to (here, used rhymes with boost) is different from the past of use (in this case, used rhymes with cruised).

In the negative and question forms, you’ll need did or didn’t. The d in used is dropped and the pronunciation of use rhymes with juice.

I didn’t use to like broccoli.
Did you use to work for BMW?

It might take a while before you start using used to like a native speaker but, with a little practice, one day you’ll be able to tell people: “I used to say in former times!”

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