The suggested summary sentence :

The judge decided who the real owner of the horse was using the horse.

The background story goes as in the following:

Judge: (asking the man) Why did you repay this man’s kindness with your bad ways? Good traveler, the horse is yours.

King: Tell me, how did you know that I was the owner of the horse?

Judge: I had your horse put in a stable next to the court. When the man passed by, the horse never looked up. When you passed, he made a loud sound. It is your horse.

King: (surprised) You are a wise judge! I am the king. I'll make you the High Court Judge in the capital city!

The definition of 'use' is to do something with ~'. In the above passage, it doesn't seem that the judge did something with the horse. To me, "using" in the following summary doesn't seem right. Instead, I think "watching/observing/looking at" sounds more right. What do you think?

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    Yes; in that sense, you are casting the horse as an instrument. A tool. Perfectly fine. But consider that approach de-animates the horse a bit, removes its life and autonomy (remember it was the horse who chose to whinny at the King's passing, unprompted by the judge or anyone else). So instead you might say: "The king determined the real owner of the horse by its reaction". See also our sister site, English Language Learners. – Dan Bron Jul 7 '16 at 10:50
  • All three dictionaries at The Free Dictionary.com give as the most common sense of use a variant of 'v.tr. 1. To put into service or employ for a purpose: I used a whisk to beat the eggs. The song uses only three chords. {AHDEL}. / To avoid a garden-path sentence, a comma before, or parentheses around 'using the horse' are required. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 7 '16 at 15:36
  • ... Macmillan has: use 1 [TRANSITIVE] to do something using a machine, tool, skill, method etc in order to do a job or to achieve a result ... Using all his charm, he managed to persuade them. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 7 '16 at 15:41

It's grammatically and semantically correct, although it's difficult to interpret in the latter sense, if not outright ambiguous. I'd advise including the word a preposition such as "by" (as mentioned by TechnoGeezer), i.e.:

The judge decided who the real owner of the horse was by using the horse.

Of course, your alternatives (I particularly like "observing") would also work (and are perhaps more suited to the situation than the more-general "using"), although they'd also likely benefit from the use of a preposition.


There's nothing grammatically incorrect about the use of "using" in that sentence, but the syntax -- or, more precisely, the repetitions in "the horse was using the horse" -- makes the last half of the sentence terribly confusing. Have a look at the following suggestion as a way to phrase the idea; it is a phrasing which still retains the word "using," but is considerably clearer than the original:

The judge decided who the real owner of the horse was by using the horse.

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    Or maybe "The judge used the horse to determine its real owner." – Sven Yargs Oct 27 '16 at 1:08

Yes, the verb "used" is used properly, appropriately, and with 100% grammatical correctness, in the sentence suggested by Sven Yargs: "The judge used the horse to determine its real owner." Sven's suggestion that decided, in the original sentence, be changed to determine, alters some of the meaning, but only very slightly, and in a clever and effective way. The suggested change obviates the whole "who" clause in the original; but the new version still clearly implies that there is a "who" involved, by way of the "its real owner" phrase at the end. Superb rewrite, Sven!

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