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I don't understand the sentence "people have grown used to wasting water". Does it mean that the people who were used to wasting water have grown?

The original context is:

"Unfortunately, the world's supply of water is under threat. People have grown used to wasting water, and changes in the global climate mean that droughts and water rationing are becoming increasing common."

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People have grown used to wasting water

One paraphrase would be:

People have become accustomed to wasting water.

One definition for the verb grow (found at Wordnik) is:

grow (verb) To come to be by a gradual process or by degrees; to become: grow angry; grow closer.

The phrase used to in this case matches this adjectival definition (also in Wordnik):

used to (adj.) accustomed to, tolerant or accepting of.

So, the sentence is saying that people have gradually become more accepting of the practice of wasting water. Or, if we look at this from the opposite angle of conserving water (rather than from the angle of wasting water), we could paraphrase the sentence by saying:

Over time, people have become less and less concerned about conserving water.

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  • I would add: "grown used to" and "gotten used to" are both very common and synonymous phrases. The first one is a little more formal than the second. – mamster Aug 17 '18 at 14:18
  • @mamster - one could also write: "become used to", which, insofar as formality goes, would probably fall between your two options. – J.R. Aug 17 '18 at 15:15
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This sentences means that people have formed a habit of wasting water. Here, "used to" indicates a habit. If you understand it like "the people who were used to wasting water have grown", the sentence should be phrased like this,

"People who used to waste water have grown".

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    It's true that the sentence is talking about habitual wasting of water, but this isn't a good parsing of the sentence. It's the entire phrase "grown used to", and the verb grow in this context isn't talking about the the number of people who have been wasting water. Instead, it's talking about how the habit itself has become more widespread over time. – J.R. Aug 17 '18 at 9:46
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If, as you suppose might be a possibility here, used to wasting water directly modified people, the syntax would have to change. The modifying participle clause would immediately follow the noun people:

People used to wasting water have grown.

Associating lavish water-consumption with physical growth would be a rather silly thing to do with people, although it might be true of some vegetation. But if you wanted to say the the portion of the population which wastes water has increased:

The number of people used to wasting water has grown.

But the original sentence does not have that meaning. grown there is a synonym for become and its complement is a clause that functions as a subject complement:

People have become used to wasting water.

They waste water habitually. They don't think twice about it.

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  • Are these two sentences the same? "People used to wasting water have grown." VS "People who were used to wasting water have grown." – dan Aug 17 '18 at 15:41
  • @dan: Your second sentence is not quite idiomatic and I don't know what to make of it. The verb phrase were used to wasting water, being in the past tense and a modifier of people, doesn't jibe with the present perfect, have grown, not unless this is a contorted way of saying that the number of people who continue to waste water has decreased. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 17 '18 at 16:40
  • according to dictionaries, we should write "used to waste" or "be used to wasting". "Used to wasting" doesn't look right. What do you make of it? – dan Aug 17 '18 at 23:51
  • @dan: What do I make of what? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 18 '18 at 2:37
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    @dan: used to wasting water can be a participle clause that modifies people: People [who are] used to wasting water should begin to conserve. It can also be a subject complement: Living on the edge of the desert, they are not used to wasting water. Living beside the river, they are used to wasting water. It can also be a verb: They used to waste water. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 18 '18 at 14:01

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