I came across two similar instances of occupy that I don't really understand.

The large industrial population of the town is occupied in the manufacture of lace, which extended hither from Nottingham; there are also railway carriage works. (Your Dictionary Sentence)

a person or thing occupied in or designed for splitting something. (Google's definition of "splitter")

It seems occupied in both sentences mean employed, but I can't find any dictionaries that support this (checked MW and ODO). The closest usage I could find is to hold a position or a job, which is not the same. Intuitively, it would make sense that occupy could have usages related to occupation. But why can't I find it in the dictionaries?

3 Answers 3


are occupied in {X} could be paraphrased as "have {X} as their occupation (job)" or "have an occupation (job) that is in some way related to {X}".

This locution is generally reserved for contexts where one is speaking demographically, speaking of particular groups of people in a population. A single person would not typically say "I am occupied in the manufacture of lace".


  • 1
    This answer makes much more sense. It does seem a somewhat uncommon usage.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 20, 2018 at 14:31
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    @L.Moneta "uncommon"? Have you checked the link? There are hundreds of books with that expression.
    – RubioRic
    May 20, 2018 at 15:26
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    You are both right. It is, as RubioRic says, very well attested. But it isn't a colloquial way of stating the fact either; you tend to find it as I said in demographic/historical/sociological contexts. In West Virginia, a large percentage of the population is occupied in the mining of coal.
    – TimR
    May 20, 2018 at 15:42
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    @RubioRic I see your point. But I did say "somewhat", didn't I? Kudos for locating employed in the synonym list on the ODO. But your answer's main problem is you've failed to see the difference between the standard definition and my cited usage. I hope in the very least you can see an active/passive distinction. As Tᴚoɯɐuo points out, the usage is not the most common colloquial usage that most learners are familiar with.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 20, 2018 at 15:46
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    Don't get too preoccupied with occupy or you will go down a rabbit-hole.
    – TimR
    May 20, 2018 at 15:47


to engage the attention or energies of · They occupied themselves with video games.

In your first sentence, it's reasonable to assume that most of the people are actually being paid to make lace, but, logically, that doesn't have to be the case.


You just have to enlarge your search a bit.


1.3 Hold (a position or job)

‘a very different job from any that he had occupied before’

According to Cambridge Dictionary

hold verb (CONTROL)

to have something, especially a position or money, or to control something:

He currently holds the position of technical manager.


A job or profession.

According to Oxford Theasurus

Synonyms of occupied: working, employed, at work, on the job, hard-pressed, active

After all these evidences plus the link offered by @Tᴚoɯɐuo, one may conclude that occupy in a job is the same as being employed, without any semantinc difference.

  • Well, that's what I said in the question. Glad you included the example sentence. The problem here is that if you look at the ODO's sentence, it is People occupy a job, Compare that to the sentences I quoted, which say People are occupied in a job. It's not simply a difference between active and passive voices, but also a difference on both syntactic and semantic levels.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 20, 2018 at 14:28
  • @L.Moneta I don't get you. "It seems occupied in both sentences mean employed, but I can't find any dictionaries that support this" I've found evidences.
    – RubioRic
    May 20, 2018 at 15:17
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    No, you didn't. You didn't provide any information beyond what I already said in my question. I said The closest usage I could find is to hold a position or a job
    – Eddie Kal
    May 20, 2018 at 15:20
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    Plus, keep in mind that evidence is a noncount noun. So it's not evidences*
    – Eddie Kal
    May 20, 2018 at 15:21
  • @L.Moneta english.stackexchange.com/questions/118727/… I'm not so sure. Maybe it's old-fashioned but it is not incorrect.
    – RubioRic
    May 20, 2018 at 15:30

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