The verb "to flee" means "to run away" but are they interchangeable in every aspect? I'm kind of confused which one to use. It seems to me that the use of the verb flee could be more elaborate when written and "run away" would be more use in an informal discussion.

In which context one is more suitable than the other?

  • 1
    'He ran away from home' sounds far more natural (as an expression!) than 'He fled from home'. 'Flee' carries a great sense of urgency, more than 'run away [from]'. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 22:56
  • 1
    No, they aren’t interchangeable: they are not the same length, nor the same number of words, nor most importantly in the same register.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 0:06
  • @EdwinAshworth Is the preposition after "flee" optional or is there a rule ?
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 1:56
  • @Luis, You could just say 'He fled.' So yes, it is optional.
    – Henry74
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 2:07
  • 2
    @Luis More relevantly, you could say 'He fled the scene of the accident' as an alternative to 'He fled from the scene of the accident', with little change in meaning. Flee can be used both transitively and intransitively; some other verbs behave similarly (eg The cat brushed / brushed against my leg). This does not mean the usages are totally interchangeable – but this may be a matter of preference. I'd be happier with 'fled the wrath to come', 'fled the country' and 'fled from the nursery' than 'fled the nursery', but the internet says that others seem quite happy with 'fled the nursery'. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 8:50

4 Answers 4


To flee would not be appropriate to substitute in the idiom running away from your problems. To run away could be used in place of to flee in most cases, but to flee coneys a sense of immediate, tangible danger that to run away does not. For example, fleeing the scene of the crime is more powerful than running away from the scene of the crime.

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    Of course you can use flee metaphorically. Anything can be used metaphorically. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 2:33
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇, you're right, of course. I've edited it to say it doesn't work in that particular metaphor. Thanks for the feedback.
    – Henry74
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 2:46
  • I still feel that you're making a false distinction here. Why can't I flee from my problems? Doesn't that convey that my problems constitute immediate, tangible danger, or that I think they do, or that whoever describes my flight wants to connote that they do? Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 4:21
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇, as Henry74 pointed out, I think the use of "flee" carry more the idea of escaping an immediate threat.
    – Py.
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:55
  • I suppose there could be examples of problems one might flee from, but running away from your problems is a common idiom that implies you are short-sightedly avoiding your problems rather than facing them. Using flee here would not just add immediacy but also lose the other implications specific to that idiom. I'm changing metaphor to idiom in the answer to make this clearer.
    – Henry74
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 21:33

While they may be similar I don't think you can use them in every context.

Run - pass or cause to pass quickly or smoothly in a particular direction.

Run - move about in a hurried and hectic way.

There are multiple definitions for the word Ran but from my research these two most closely relate to flee. Also flee has more of a negative connotation to it for example.

Flee - run away from a place or situation of danger.

Flee - run away from (someone or something).

"I can't wait to run away and start my life in Europe!"

"I cant wait to flee and start my life in Europe!"

The second one doesn't sound right, even though both would need to defined more clearly with context clues, you can assume what the person who spoke the first sentence meant easier than the second.


As Henry74 and dom176 mentioned, it's not always interchangeable. Consider this illustrative example:

The outfielder misjudged the ball's path, and too late he realized he was not running towards the ball, he was running away from it.

Here "running away" just indicates he was moving in the opposite direction, rather than "he was fleeing from it" would indicate a desire to escape.

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    – choster
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 19:28

Both are the same, the difference is that to run away is not such formal as flee is, run away is a phrasal verb and it sounds more natural.

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