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I have two sub-questions regarding escape v/s escape from.

  • Escaping from a place:

    He (escaped / escaped from) prison.

I can guess that He escaped from prison. is correct, but is He escaped prison. also correct?

  • Escaping from a person:

    He (escaped / escaped from) Agent Hanratty.

Here, both "feel" wrong! Is either or both of these correct? If not, then what is the correct phrase to express this?

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The word from is a prepositional term that is used to mark a starting point in time or space. If your subject was once in prison or if he was once caught by Agent Hanratty, you would state "escaped from" to indicate that the subject, at some specific point in time, "escaped" his existing state of captivity.

To state that your subject "escaped prison" or "escaped Agent Hanratty" could also be correct. In this context, the implication is that your subject was nearly sent to prison or that Agent Hanratty almost caught the subject. Since captivity never occurred, we state that your subject "escaped" a circumstance that could have happened.

Since the subject was never held captive, there was never a point in time which the term from can reference. Thus, from is omitted.

However, English is often a tricky language. It isn't uncommon for news headlines to leave out some prepositional terms for the sake of brevity. For instance, a newspaper may run a front-page articles with the headline, "John Doe Escapes Prison!"

Did John Doe escape prison by being acquitted of a court accusation? Did he break out and flee from a prison complex? It is impossible to know without reading the story and gaining further context. This is because newspapers and news sites will quite often omit the word from for the sake of saving a bit of headline space.

This may seem inconsequential. However, often what "feels" right about a spoken language is what is commonly heard or read. If you frequently read headlines and news articles, brevity will feel correct.

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    I searched COCA for escaped from prison (47 results) and escaped prison (4 results). All four of the latter were used to mean someone who escaped from prison, and none of the four were from headlines. Although this is a small sample size, I think (tentatively) that escaped prison most commonly means the same thing as escaped from prison. – snailcar Nov 14 '13 at 18:45
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Well, it all depends which context you are talking in. Okay, I found something good for this.

WordWeb has better clarification on the usage of this verb (escape):

1- Run away from confinement (The convicted murderer escaped from a high security prision).
2 - Fail to experience (Fortunately, I escaped the hurricane). Note, there's no from used here.
3 - Escape potentially unpleasant consequences, get away with a forbidden action (She escapes with murder!).
4 - Be incomprehensible to; escape understanding by (What you are seeing in him escapes me).
5 - Remove oneself from a familiar environment, usually for pleasure or diversion (We escaped to our summer house for a few days). Note the use of to.

The word escape is not always used to describe getting away. WW mentions it further...

6 - Issue or leak, as from a small opening (Gas escaped into the bedroom)

From these examples, it seems that He escaped from prison is correct.

  • "She escapes with murder" is not idiomatic English. Could you provide a link to where you found these examples? – The Photon Nov 15 '13 at 5:40
  • I have installed a WordWeb Pro in my PC/Smartphone. It showed the examples I wrote. Here is the online link for it: wordwebonline.com/en/ESCAPED – Maulik V Nov 15 '13 at 10:36
  • As The Photon says, escapes with murder is not idiomatic. I'm not sure most native speakers would understand it, though I can imagine some people being able to figure it out. – snailcar Nov 15 '13 at 14:32

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