3

Why is this sentence correct?

The old, discredited leaders of the Party had been used to gather there before they were finally purged.

The "had been used to" part troubles me. Shouldn't it be "had used to"?

The sentence was copied verbatim from Orwell's 1984.

  • 1
    Did someone say that "this sentence is correct?" That should be a gerund I guess: used to gathering there. – Kris May 27 '14 at 6:03
  • Agree w/ @Kris - I googled but found no gathering. I think this missed the editor. It is not a construction used in English unless meaning (st) had been used to achieve an effect which is clearly not the meaning here. – anongoodnurse May 27 '14 at 6:11
  • Wow. I didn't know such a famous author could let slip such a mistake. But this would explain some other areas in the book where there are grammatical oddities. – George Newton May 27 '14 at 6:14
  • 1
    As I commented above, one can say this device had been used to gather dust in the past... but not how Orwell wrote it. Just missed the proofreaders. – anongoodnurse May 27 '14 at 6:38
  • 2
    Also bear in mind that it's a book in which there are lots of made-up words and new constructions. Are there similar "errors" in other books of Orwell's? If not then I think one should a) at least consider the possibility that the "errors" were deliberate and b) cut the editor a bit of slack in the case of 1984. – Rupe May 27 '14 at 7:12
8

This is the past perfect of an archaic form of the verb "used to". Consider this Ngram for "he was used to go". It means "he was accustomed to go", and it was around 20 times as common in 1800 as it is today. My impression is that it was generally used in the past simple or present perfect, and not as much in present tense.

Essentially the same construction can be found in Jane Austen:

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy,

She had been used to consult him in every difficulty, and he loved her too well to bear to be denied her confidence now.

So conjugated, it becomes:

The leaders of the party were used to gather there,
The leaders of the party had been used to gather there.

  • Well, you've answered it correctly, so now I don't have to. It is a bit old-fashioned for 1949, but then Orwell was a conservative linguistically as much as he was a radical politically. – Jon Hanna May 27 '14 at 15:09
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    +1 for the correct answer (at last). The other answers, including the accepted one, are simply wrong. – Robusto May 27 '14 at 15:15
1

It should be either:

1) The old, discredited leaders of the Party used to gather there before they were finally purged.

2) The old, discredited leaders of the Party had used to gather there before they were finally purged.

or

3) The old, discredited leaders of the Party had been used to gathering there before they were finally purged. [= 'had been accustomed to gathering']

'Had been used to' seems to be some kind of accidental variant.

  • The sentence was copied verbatim from Orwell's 1984. Not to offend, but are you sure that it's incorrect? – George Newton May 27 '14 at 5:59
  • @GeorgeNewton - Then I would have to say it is a construction that -- in relation to the English of today -- is on its way to becoming obsolete. I just don't think the average British person would use it nowadays. On the other hand, "had been accustomed to gather" still sounds idiomatic, so the idiomaticity of the construction seems to be a function of which verb is chosen. – Erik Kowal May 27 '14 at 6:20
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    +1 because your answer pays greater respect to George Orwell. – Mari-Lou A May 27 '14 at 7:01
  • I have to say I don't find “had been accustomed to gather” idiomatic either. That sounds just as jarring as “had been used to gather”—I would absolutely expect a gerund in both constructions. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 27 '14 at 7:03
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Though in both cases the number of Google hits is less than 100 (and therefore we should not regard the comparison as conclusive), at my time/space coordinates "had been accustomed to gather" prevails over "had been accustomed to gathering" by a ratio of 3:2. – Erik Kowal May 27 '14 at 7:22
-4

I find this sentence having a flaw. Let me analyse it to expose the flaw.

The old, discredited leaders of the Party had been used to gather there before they were finally purged.

  • Let poopflies = {old, discredited leaders of the Party}
  • Let familiar with = {used to}


Defective construction exposed:

  1. The {poopflies} had been {familiar with} {eat horse dung}
  2. The {poopflies} had been {familiar with} {gather there}

Corrected:

  1. The {poopflies} had been {familiar with} {eating horse dung}
  2. The {poopflies} had been {familiar with} {gathering there}

Therefore,

  1. The {poopflies} had been {used to} {eating horse dung}
  2. The {poopflies} had been {used to} {gathering there}
  3. The {poopflies} had been {used to} {gathering there} before they were exterminated with insecticide.
  4. The {old, discredited leaders of the Party} had been {used to} {gathering there} before they were finally purged from the party.

I am unable to validate that {gather there} without being a gerund would contribute stability to the construction of that sentence.

If the writer of the sentence insists in such a construction, then it could only mean

  1. The {poopflies} had been {used to} {gather horse dung}
  2. The {poopflies} had been {exploited to} {gather horse dung}
  3. The {poopflies} had been {exploited} {to gather horse dung}
  4. The {old, discredited leaders of the Party} had been {exploited} {to gather there} before they were finally purged from the party.

Which I don't think is the intention of the writer.

The acceptable construction is

The {old, discredited leaders of the Party} had been {used to} {gathering there} before they were finally purged from the party.

  • 1
    Unfortunately, your analysis fails to account for the fact (noted in my comment to the OP attached to my own posting) that "had been accustomed to gather" is idiomatic, even though gather lacks the -ing ending. – Erik Kowal May 27 '14 at 6:57
  • "Unfortunately" is incongruent to the situation at hand. I merely engaged in critique of the stability of construction, rather than the alleged existence of an idiomatic structure. – Blessed Geek May 27 '14 at 8:15
  • Otherwise, we would have to accept the normalcy of ridiculous structures that are "idiomatic" to too many lyrics in American Country music, simply by the virtue that they had been used before, and with excessive frequency. – Blessed Geek May 27 '14 at 8:21
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    I'm no great fan of that genre either :) However, I feel obliged to point out that if you Google "had been accustomed to gather", you will find it being used in the most respectable contexts, and not at all in the setting of country music lyrics (or anything remotely approaching them). – Erik Kowal May 27 '14 at 8:29
  • I prefer to keep both the standard and the idiomatic in mind separately, though as Peter Shor demonstrates in this answer, there's no need to do so in this standard, albeit archaic even for 1949, form. – Jon Hanna May 27 '14 at 15:11

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