Should been really have been included in the following passage from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, or was this somehow an erroneous insertion of a spurious word?

Animal Farm illustration, used in fair use for criticism and analysis
Illustration from p. 17 of the 1990 hardcover edition from Houghton Mifflin Harcourtfair-use copyright exemption

The harness-room at the end of the stables was broken open; the bits, the nose-rings, the dog-chains, the cruel knives with which Mr. Jones had been used to castrate the pigs and lambs, were all flung down the well.

I thought it should be one of these two alternatives:

  1. with which Mr Jones had used to castrate the pigs
  2. with which had been used by Mr Jones to castrate the pigs

But Orwell’s sentence seems to be a mix of my two rewritten portions.

  • It reads as if the one being used was Mr Jones.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 13:03
  • 41
    If you read 'used' in its sense of 'accustomed', all should become clear.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 13:05
  • 13
    @MaxS Spagirl is correct. The construction with the infinitive is no longer common, but easy enough to find in older works: she did not speak as she had been used to do; the aforesaid township… should be taxerd, and has been used to be taxed, Sally… had been used to help her mother, and indeed later in Animal Farm itself, they wagged their tails to him in the same way as the other dogs had been used to do to Mr. Jones.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 14:40
  • Actually, the last item turned up at ELL: What sort of verb is “had been used to do”?
    – choster
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 14:41
  • 2
    @MaxS "Easy enough" means I only spent literally 10 seconds on Google and turned up examples; it doesn't speak to their prevalence of course. That would be difficult to research using online tools, given the various ways used to can be parsed. The OED entry is worth a read; you'll find all sorts of interesting constructions like Nothing uses me to it or I am so little used with bad health or Such sane advice was used to be given that we no longer use and are no longer used to, or which persist only in Irish, South Asian, or Caribbean Englishes.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 16:33

2 Answers 2


I think the meaning of 'use' had set you on the wrong track, plus an assumption that English always was as it is now.

The meaning of 'use' here (all definitions from OED) is not the sense of

'To put to practical or effective use; to make use of, employ, esp. habitually.'


'To observe, practise, or engage in.'


IV. To accustom; to be accustomed to
20 (c) With to and infinitive. Now only in pass. in past tense, Now regional and rare.

example: J. S. Winter’ Bootle's Children xi. 86 Which..had stirred Terry's heart just as it had been used to stir it years and years ago.

(Some passive examples in the late 18th and 19th centuries show a transition towards sense 20c(b) 'With a gerund. To have come to expect a particular course of events to unfold' eg 'She was well used to entertaining herself.)

So the usage in Animal Farm is correct and can be read as

'knives with which Mr Jones had been accustomed to castrate the pigs'

However a writer writing today would be less likely to use this construction and might instead opt for something like

'knives with which Mr Jones had been accustomed to castrating the pigs'

The sentence is correct for its time.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 22:15
  • Could you please edit your fine answer to explain what you’ve meant in your last sentence? By saying that “the sentence is correct for its time”, you seem to imply that it’s no longer correct in ours—a proposition I find arguable at best. Did you mean that the “pied-piping” (unnaturally dragging the preposition around) which was too often “expected” of formal writing was considered correct, perhaps mandatory, back when the sentence was written even though it leads to a garden-path misreading, so that now we’d simply say something more like “…knives he’d got used to castrating pigs with”?
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 22:31
  • @tchrist My understanding is not that it is incorrect now, but that the construction would be unlikely to be used now. I believe my penultimate sentence makes my view clear. I have no idea what a garden-path misreading is.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 18:58

The quoted line had 'used to' as an adjective in the sense 'habituated'. As a modal auxiliary it is not used. The verb phrase is 'had been'. When 'used to' is a modal auxiliary, it means habitual action in the past and doesn't have verb conjugation except omission of infinitival 'to' after it. In this sense, your substitution is incorrect.

  • Thought of this, but it doesn't quite make sense in context. You can only be used to something that is or something that happened - "castrate" is neither. "used to seeing castrated" for instance would work; "used to castrating" could be odd, but still correct; "used to castrate" is not.
    – Benubird
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 8:58
  • 'Used to' can have gerund or bare infinitive with a slight variation in meaning. 'Used to' after 'be' conjugation followed by gerund suggest an activity normal to someone. We use 'used to'in the like manner of simple past for past habit not continued any longer when it takes bare infinitive. Orwell mixes both the rules to a fine symmetry— a license indulgently allowed to the great by every language. Of couse there may be shift in meaning so nicely put by Spagirl as above. Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 9:49

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