I find something wrong with the grammar below from a BBC report.

Around a million people had evacuated from vulnerable areas in the south, though many are now heading home.

Should it not be a million people were evacuated? How about

Computers will ship out tomorrow.
The ship will launch tomorrow?

Can inanimate things do things?

  • 5
    ...were evacuated... would suggest that they had help and guidance getting to safer areas, whereas, ...had evacuated... tells us that they got themselves to safety.
    – Joe Dark
    Dec 8 '14 at 9:29
  • Again "people were evacuated" does not mean that people left a place, it means that waste was removed from their body, "people had evacuated from vulnerable areas" means that vulnerable areas were previously emptied of people, but are no longer empty of people. Although, it's still definitely subject to the other interpretation. Properly structured this sentence would read "Vulnerable areas in the south were evacuated of around a million people, many of whom are now heading home." Dec 12 '14 at 18:02

As for your second (rhetorical?) question. Technically and formally speaking: no, computers do not ship and ships do not launch. However, colloquially, they do.

And you would have to be a bit dirty-minded to infer from your first example that a million people had evacuated their bowels simultaneously... one can, intransitively, evacuate [oneself].

  • In "people had evacuated" vs "people were evacuated" I seemly asked a grammar question. "Evacuate" as in the biological sense did not occur to me and is illogical in the context. Someone brought out that connotation!
    – Vali Jamal
    Aug 2 '20 at 10:17

to evacuate can be used as a transitive verb and also as an intransitive verb meaning to move out of a place because of danger. See OALD.


Sense 3 of evacuate in the OED has precisely the meaning the BBC uses, as well as that mode of grammatical employment .

Of an army; To relinquish the occupation of (a country, fortress, town, position). Said also of the general in command, or of the authority that orders the withdrawal.

absol. 1881 Dillon in Times 5 Jan. 10/1 As soon as the army evacuates he can go back to his own home.

In this example the army is doing the evacuating as well as being the thing evacuated.

I would however have omitted the 'from' in the BBC's sentence. 'People evacuate a town', they do not 'evacuate from a town'.


Saying "a million people were evacuated" means, to put it delicately, that each of those one million people received an enema. A place can be evacuated of people, but people are not evacuated of a place, they are evacuated of the contents of their bowels.

  • It's not just "a million people were evacuated" but "evacuated from vulnerable ares", so how does the bio-function come into it?
    – Vali Jamal
    Aug 2 '20 at 10:21

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