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In the following sentence

The citizens were forced to render up their town to the conqueror.

what does were forced mean exactly?

Does it mean that some proactive party literally forced the citizens (like for example threatened to kill a hostage) or does it mean that for whatever reason they concluded they had to perform that action?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Without further context, I would say it could be both. The conqueror may have threatened to nuke them from orbit (external force). Or they could have been caught unprepared and run out of food within two days, due to not building up stocks (their own fault). Or it hadn't been raining for three months in a row, so they run out of water, or there was a flood approaching, or a hurricane had devastated the town (force of nature). Or they just realized that the conqueror was a saint, bringing justice, peace, and candy for everyone, and in light of these facts giving up was the most sensible thing to do.

In any case, forced does imply force, but it does not identify it all by itself.

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The example sentence provided serves as a good example of the use of the passive voice (accidentally or on-purpose) to hide what is going on. A clearer construction would be "The conqueror forced the citizens to surrender their town" if that's what happened. Changing to the active voice from the passive forces (heh) the author to be more clear about cause and effect.

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