Some of the oil has washed up on a neighboring island.

The bold part of the above sentence seems odd to me. It appears like oil is doing the process of washing up. For eg, when we say:

He has read it.

It means the person has done the process of reading. Oil not should take the auxiliary verb "has" because it cannot do "washing-up".

I think it should be written like:

Some of the oil has been washed up on a neighboring island.

Some of the oil has got washed up on a neighboring island.

Another example of the same kind:

If the counter decrements in value, which of the following operations will follow?
{A MCQ question format}

I believe it should also be will be followed.

2 Answers 2


This use of wash is perfectly correct and entirely unremarkable.

It’s quite common for English verbs exhibit different argument structures in different contexts—for example, there's one in your final example that you haven't noticed, decrement. Several verbs designating cooking processes may be cast either as transitives, with the food as object, or as intransitives, with the food as subject:

Jane is boiling eggs.
Eggs are boiling on the stove.

An inanimate entity which is ordinarily the object of a verb with a human subject may become the subject of the verb if the action is attributable to some quality of the object:

The Harry Potter books sold millions.
This car steers very poorly.

Verbs of motion like wash in your example are especially susceptible to variation between what might be called ‘automotive’ and causative senses:

Horses galloped across the plain.
The warriors galloped their mounts across the plain.

These variations are comparable to the very old process of varying vowels in the stem which gave rise to ModE pairs like lie/lay, rise/raise, and sit/set.

You will find several questions on ELL about these verbs and their uses on ELL, tagged ; other names are ‘ergative’, ‘multivalent’ and ‘labile’

  • My example is a middle voice in present perfect tense?
    – Anubhav
    Aug 16, 2017 at 5:08
  • @AnubhavSingh Basically, yeah. But it isn't really a 'voice', in the sense that term is ordinarily used--it's not marked inflectionally or syntactically, but by a shift in the syntactic role of the argument oil. Aug 16, 2017 at 9:44

Wash is a verb that can have an implied reflexive meaning.

Some of the oil has washed up on a neighboring island = Some of the oil has washed [itself] up on a neighboring island.

In other languages like Spanish a reflexive pronoun would be used but not in English.

Also, sometimes to be colorful, non-boring, or dramatic, writers will give human or animistic qualities to objects. So while oil doesn't really have the capability to move on its own, a writer or speaker may temporarily pretend it has that ability to make text or speech interesting or emotionally impactful.

  • The same is true for the other example also?
    – Anubhav
    Aug 15, 2017 at 17:58
  • 1
    X follows Y doesn't necessarily mean X is walking after Y, but it can also mean X appears after Y. That's built into the meaning of follow. You don't want to say will be followed because it sounds like you are trying to say will be followed by - and that won't work because X follows Y = Y is followed by X
    – LawrenceC
    Aug 15, 2017 at 19:49

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