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This is the context from [an English tranlation] (https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/182/crime-and-punishment/3393/part-1-chapter-2/) of Crime And Punishment by Dostoevsky

This is what Mr. Luzhin (a suitor) said to one of the characters in the novel, and what was written in the letter, to the main protagonist Raskolnikov:

"a man ought not to be indebted to his wife, but that it is better for a wife to look upon her husband as her benefactor"

This is the part describing Raskolnikov's pondering on that statement, after reading the letter:

"And now mother and she have taken it into their heads that she can put up with Mr. Luzhin, who propounds the theory of the superiority of wives raised from destitution and owing everything to their husband’s bounty—who propounds it, too, almost at the first interview"

TFD def for the prep "owing to" is: Because of; on account of: I couldn't attend, owing to illness. But I don't think this is the correct definition for this context because it has the word "everything" in the middle.

Also TFD def for the adj. owing is: Still to be paid; due.

But none of these fits here. For me "owing" here seems like an adjective in this context. Also as far as I know "I am owing you something" is incorrect and instead, you should use the "owe" form.

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  • "<subject> owe <dir-obj> to <ind-obj>" is the structure here.
    – gotube
    Sep 1, 2021 at 5:17

1 Answer 1

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In your example, owing is a present participle being used adjectivally. More specifically, it's being used in a participle phrase.

Participial phrases can usually be rephrased by including who, which can then turn the present participle into a present progressive verb like this:

Raskolnikov complains about the man propounding his views on women
Raskolnikov complains about the man who is propounding his views on women.

This works with your example phrase as well, except that we don't use owe in the present progressive (as you've correctly noted), so it must be rephrased like this:

Mr. Luzhin prefers wives owing everything to their husbands
Mr. Luzhin prefers wives who owe everything to their husbands

Now we can see that the meaning of owing is the basic meaning of the verb:

owe verb

2 : to be indebted for
// owed his wealth to his father
// owes much to good luck

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/owe

Or, to rephrase most simply: Mr. Luzhin prefers women who were poor and only have money (and status, etc.) because their husbands gave it to them.

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  • So then, does this mean we don't use "owe" in the present progressive anymore? Is it just a dated form of writing? If I used it in this way nowadays, would it be considered incorrect? Sep 1, 2021 at 12:18
  • @StaticBounce, my answer was probably a bit unclear. In your example sentence, "owing" is not in the present progressive, it's a present participle. What I meant to say is that there's some similarity between present progressive and present participle (they both use the -ing forms). But you are correct that we do not say, "She is owing"; only "She owes." And this use of the present participle "owing" does sound a little dated. In fact, much of the sentence sounds dated ("propounds the theory of", "raised from destitution", "husbands' bounty").
    – Juhasz
    Sep 1, 2021 at 16:22
  • Ok, got it, thank for the effort :) Sep 4, 2021 at 10:33

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