Wow, this is definitely a baffling one! At first you might think this was a classic error being made in a national newspaper that really should know better. And yet…
Before we get into all that, let’s deal with the two different ways to pronounce ‘use’. It can either be with a soft s like a z as in “I use a screwdriver to open a tin of paint” or with a hard s as in “What use did you put that screwdriver to?”
Having established that, just like ‘would’ve’ is often mistaken for ‘would of’ because of how it sounds, so ‘used’ is often mistaken for ‘use’ because when you say ‘used to’ the d is often silent since it’s immediately followed by a t (although this can vary depending on local dialect).
Things become even more complicated here because you can say ‘used’ with a soft s to denote some action in the past, as in “I used a screwdriver to open a tin of paint.” But when you are talking about something that you did (in the past) but don’t any longer, you might say “I used to use a screwdriver to open a tin of paint.” The ‘used’ in that sentence would have a hard s while the ‘use’ would take on the z sound (‘use’ being the verb).
This means that while “I used to” in the phrase “Let me tell you what tool I used to open a tin of paint” would be a soft s, when you say “I used to” as in “I used to be popular” this would have a hard s. The important thing to note here is that in both instances “used” should always include the all-important d, you cannot say “I use to be popular” or “There use to be a bus stop here” (although so many people do make this mistake… and you can see why).
Using the logic above, the phrasing in the newspaper headline “You didn’t use to see…” would be wrong. Zero out of 10 for The Daily Telegraph.
Apparently not. The crucial word in this headline is ‘didn’t’. If you follow strict grammatical rules, by using ‘didn’t’ there is no longer a need to put a d at the end of ‘used’. To explain this, consider this example: “He seemed to know” against “He didn’t seem to know”. You wouldn’t say “He didn’t seemed to know”. It could be argued, however, that while ‘seem’ can sit on its own (“I seem”, “You seem”) when do we ever write ‘use’ on its own (with a hard s) unless it is in phrases like “Oh, what’s the use?” While ‘seem’ is clearly the present and ‘seemed’ the past, it would be very difficult to use the present form of ‘used’ (hard s) because “used to” is always about the past.
It’s a tricky one, that’s for sure. Even though “didn’t use to” is said to be grammatically correct, it just looks odd. Our advice? Find another way of saying it, such as using ‘never’, and avoid that phrasing altogether.
So this headline could have read: “You never used to see working class people on kids’ TV.” There. Problem solved. The d is back where it should be and it actually reads better.
If you’re still confused, don’t worry. Just delegate the responsibility for getting this kind of thing right to those who have spent decades mastering the baffling nature of the English language. Then you can get on with doing what you do best – running a successful business that has a reputation for quality and attention to detail.