It's an extract from the translation of ''Crime and Punishment'' book.

It was a back staircase, dark and narrow, but he was familiar with it already, and knew his way, and he liked all these surroundings: in such darkness even the most inquisitive eyes were not to be dreaded.

what does the bold part mean and what is the grammar and meaning of ''were not to be''?

  • This construction (e.g. "to be dreaded") is called the "passive infinitive". Medicine is to be taken. Plants are to be watered. Students are to be taught. A red hot piece of metal is not to be touched. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 27 '17 at 18:45

I can paraphrase like this:

He liked all these surroundings, and he would not dread even the most inquisitive eyes.

So, if I tell you:

My dogs are nice, they are not to be feared.

That is like saying:

My dogs are nice, you don't have to be afraid of them.

This "are/were not to be [something]" construct is literary; you won't hear that kind of language very much in day-to-day conversation, but I'm not surprised you ran across it in a classic novel like Crime and Punishment.

  • As a translation, you also have to account for the quirks of the original language. A good translator might still try to mirror the structure of the Russian even if it's not exactly how a native English spraker might say it – Andrew Oct 27 '17 at 18:43
  • He wouldn't dread or it wouldn't dread. Does it mean "In such darkness, if you have inquisitive eyes you wouldn't feel afraid" – Masih K Oct 27 '17 at 19:14
  • @Masih - I don't think so. In this sentence, it looks to me like the inquisitive eyes don't belong to the person who might (or might not) be dreading. Rather, these inquisitive eyes are looking at that person. – J.R. Oct 28 '17 at 11:07

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