How to express “used to do …” in Chinese?

In English, we often use “used to do …” to describe a habit,  behavior or facts that happened in the past and stopped already. It is not possible to find an equivalent expression by just translating “used to do …” into Chinese verbatim. In this Learn Chinese Online grammar lesson, we’ll find out what are options out there that we can use to express “used to do …” in Chinese.

First of all, let’s go over new vocabulary list and then we’ll start with an example. Please use the estroke tool under the new word table to help you with your writing practice.

Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese Mandarin Pinyin English Definition
曾经 曾經 ceng2 jing1 previously; ever
以前 以前 yi3 qian2 before; previous; ago;
原来 原來 yuan2 lai2 former; originally; at first
本来 本來 ben3 lai2 original; originally
dian4 shop; store
mai3 to buy
常常 常常 chang2 chang2 often;
公园 公園 gong1 yuan2 park (for public recreation)
wan4 play; have fun


If we want to say, “I used to live here.” That means, “I do not live here anymore. But I lived here in the past.” To turn that sentence into Chinese, you can use a word called “曾经 céngjīng“:


wǒ céngjīng zhù zài zhèlǐ.

That’s the best translation I can think of. However, the following alternatives are also acceptable:


wǒ yǐqián zhù zài zhèlǐ.



wǒ yuánlái zhù zài zhèlǐ.



wǒ běnlái zhù zài zhèlǐ.


以前 yǐqián means “before; in the past”. “原来 yuánlái” and “本来 běnlái” means “originally”.

Please be aware that “曾经  céngjīng” can be shortened as a single character “  céng“. “  céng” and “曾经 céngjīng” share the same meaning.

Let’s look at another example:

I used to buy books in this store.

A good translation for this sentence could be:


wǒ yǐqián chángcháng zài zhège diàn mǎi shū.

I used to buy books in this store.

以前常常 yǐqián chángcháng” describes a habbit that went again and again in the past. Do you see the difference? The first few examples demonstrated a verb that lasts for a long duration. The last example used a verb of instant behavior. “以前常常 yǐqián chángcháng” emphasizes the repeat occurrence of the behavior.

Let’s finish this lesson with two more examples then:


tā yǐqián chángcháng lái zhège gōngyuán wán.

He used to spend his leisure time in this park.



tā céngjīng xué guò Zhōngwén.

He used to learn Chinese.


Now, for practice purpose, could you translate the following two sentences into Chinese please?

  1. She used to be a teacher.
  2. She used to have lunch at school.

You can leave your answers in the comment area, thanks!

Welcome to have my face to face lesson on  !  🙂

How to express “used to do …” in Chinese?”的一个响应

  1. Patrick说道:

    1= 她曾经是一名教师
    2= 她以前常常在学校吃午饭
    Hope I answered these 2 corretly…😣😄
    Thank you David for clarifying these slighltly different situations! You explain things very well like reminding us that 曾经 can also be seen as 曾. Probably obvious for natives but not for foreign learners…

    感谢您的明确和有用的汉语课! 🙏👍😊


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