How would one say "used to", as in

I used to live in Kiev.

Previously, I was told you would use früher:

Früher lebte ich in Kiew.

But upon looking it up just again, dict.cc says you'd use pflegen:

Ich pflegte in Kiew zu leben.

Are both of these valid to say "used to", or does only pflegen work?

  • 1
    possible duplicate of Wie sage ich "used to do" auf Deutsch?
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 13:27
  • 2
    @Emanuel I don't think it's a dupe. In this particular sentence you cannot use both pflegen and immer which are the outcomes of the other question. So, this question here is valid.
    – Em1
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 14:07

3 Answers 3


Both are valid.

The form with "pflegte" is very high register, and you wouldn't normally say that. You'll understand it now when you come across it, but don't bother using it.

"Früher" is much more common, and in everyday speech, you'd use the verb in Perfekt: "Früher habe ich in Kiew gelebt"/"Ich habe früher in Kiew gelebt".

  • 2
    Strictly speaking, the word "früher" is not needed when you say: "Ich habe in Kiew gelebt." for, if you still lived there, you'd say "Ich wohne in Kiew." - But, of course, it doesn't hurt. It underlines the fact that you speak of a more distant past. (You wouldn't use "früher" if you moved from Kiev last week ...)
    – Ingo
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 12:05
  • 3
    Also (at least when I recall where I saw the word) "pflegen" seems to have a touch of "doing something regularly". Therefore, "Ich pflegte in Kiew zu leben" sounds a bit strange to me. Not wrong, but certainly not as plausible as "Ich pflegte jeden Tag Kaffee zu trinken" (I used to drink coffee every day). Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 13:15
  • 1
    @Ingo I think "Früher" is decisive to match the English phrasing "used to". The German sentence "Ich habe in Kiew gelebt" would simply be translated as "I lived in Kiev."
    – Em1
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 13:53
  • I see it even harsher than Gregor Bruns: pflegen means to do something regularly/by custom. Applied in this case, it would mean that one regularly lived in Kiew and the other times somewhere else. I'm not good enough in English to rule out this meaning, but usually I used to live in Kiew. would only mean, that one lived there some time ago.
    – Toscho
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 11:04

In addition to the other answer I'd like to say that for activities you can do repeatedly a very common way to express "I used to" is "immer machen"

Als ich auf der Uni war, hab' ich immer einen Shot getrunken, bevor ich zur Prüfung gegangen bin.

When I was in college I used to drink a shot before taking the exam.

It is quite similar to "I would always". Also, the comment of @GregorBruns is correct. "Pflegen" works well with things you can do repeatedly while for continuous long term activities like living at some place it sounds odd. For those, the only thing "used to do that" has more than a simple "I did that" is the idea of change that is a little more prominent … or at least I think it is but I am no native speaker. Anyway, the most appropriate translation of that in German would simply be the equivalent to "I did that".


Also possible (colloquial)

Ich hab'[/e] mal in Kiev gelebt

or (I think it's not used in spoken language)

Ich lebte einst in Kiev

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