The town was flooded when the dam burst.

The town flooded when the dam burst.

I'm fairly counfused about the correct usage of the verb flood. I know that the verb form of the word has two similar meanings with reagrd to a natural disaster, first is "a state of overflow" and the second is "to become inundated or submerged caused by that overflow" (as it's noticable the second is what we exactly need to focus on). But they are both used in active voice as far as I'm concerned ,however, I also pretty often come across the way it's used in passive, so does it mean slightly different apart from these both when it's in passive?

  • 1
    Judging from historical usage, the proper term is, "was flooded," but "flooded" is fine in the vernacular, and has the same meaning, "The bathroom flooded when the toilet overflowed."
    – Andrew
    Oct 5, 2016 at 18:18
  • @Andrew having a look at this sentence below , would you replace "at a risk of being flooded" by "at a risk of flood" ? "to two different methods of defence for homes which are at risk of being flooded" Oct 5, 2016 at 18:30
  • A "flood risk" is common, or "risk of flooding". "Risk of flood" is also used but I think with "flood" as the noun rather than the verb, "the town had a high risk of flood." Again I think these are vernacular, and so there may not be a set grammar rule to define their use.
    – Andrew
    Oct 5, 2016 at 19:06

2 Answers 2


They mean the same thing, but there are grammatical subtleties in the first example that could make it feel different from the first.

The second example, "The town flooded when the dam burst," is a plain old past tense of a verb that is used intransitively.

The first example ("The town was flooded when the dam burst") has two possibilities:

(1) As you noted in your post, "was flooded" could be use of the passive voice, but without an agent. That is, something flooded the town, but a cause is not stated. Agent-less passives are common in English.

(2) The other possibility is that the verb "was" is just a past tense, and "flooded" is used as a participle adjective to mean "covered or submerged in water."

Both of your example sentences have the same meaning, but a slightly different feel (to me, kind of like one of those 2-D drawings of a cube where if you blink, it's suddenly facing the other way). Of course, I do not have a definition for what this different "feel" is, so I may not have satisfied your question entirely, but I think I see why the "was flooded" example could seem like it means something different.


Both your sentences are correct. The transitive usage of "to flood", unlike the intransitive form, is often used figuratively:

    1. To cover or submerge with water; inundate: The town was flooded when the dam burst.
    1. To move into or fill in large numbers or amounts: People flooded the square. His inbox was flooded with mail.
    1. To overwhelm in large numbers: The theater was flooded with ticket requests.
    1. To put too much fuel into the carburetor of (an engine), resulting in unsuccessful ignition.


  • as I mentioned above I'm not concerned its metaphorical meanings such as " owerwhelming in larger numbers" or "fill in large numbers or amounts" Oct 5, 2016 at 18:05
  • @CavidHummatov - ok, so what is your concern?
    – user5267
    Oct 5, 2016 at 18:06
  • looking at its basic meaning, do these both sentence given above mean pretty much the same or there's a subtle difference that might need to consider ? Oct 5, 2016 at 18:12

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