Can 'on the ground' mean "inside the building"?

However we have strong grounds to believe Ukrainian forces deliberately targeted the hospital for attack as they believed—falsely—that there were insurgents on the ground.

(from here)

2 Answers 2


It's commonly used to mean "present." An older phrase meaning roughly the same thing is "on the scene." I have seen more than one essay on writing style that noted that "on the ground" can usually be deleted with no change in meaning but an improvement in the result. Here, instead of deleting it altogether, you might replace it with one of the options already mentioned or simply with "there."

  • "Present" where? Oct 18, 2022 at 0:08
  • @SergeyZolotarev in this example, present inside or nearby the hospital. Another word that could be used instead is "there."
    – phoog
    Oct 18, 2022 at 0:14

I think that use is an error. It should have said "on the grounds", with an "s". That would mean the same as "on the premises". In this example, that would mean there were insurgents within the hospital or on the land where the hospital is situated.

The phrase "on the ground" is used also, but in talking about insurgents, it would mean that they came in by air, and were now actually on the surface of the earth in the area.

After comments, I am retracting the claim that "on the ground" means they arrived by air. What I continue to assert is that "on the ground" doesn't mean "located within a small area", but their general existence in a wide area, which would not be a justification for an attack on a localized installation like a hospital. I believe the simplest explanation is a typo for "on the grounds".

  • 3
    I am not sure it is an error. I have heard military jargon, e.g. "boots on the ground" to mean "soldiers in the area," without meaning that the troops arrived by air. I doubt it is possible to deduce what the author meant or intended to write more clearly than that there was a mistaken belief that insurgents were in or near the hospital. Jun 6, 2020 at 20:37
  • @JeffMorrow I think "boots on the ground" means a recent arrival of troops in a general area, by whatever means. A hospital is a pretty localized area, and justification for attacking it would require suspicion that "insurgents were on the grounds." So I'll disagree with you on this. Jun 6, 2020 at 20:49
  • 1
    on the ground In or at a location where the real work or action is happening, as opposed to observing or directing something from a distance.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 7, 2020 at 2:02
  • It could be a typo, because further along in the article it says and the attack lasted no longer than 10 minutes, with a total of nine shells hitting the hospital and its grounds. but “it would mean they came from the air” makes no sense at all.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 7, 2020 at 2:11
  • As @ColleenV's comment says, "boots on the ground" says nothing about the time of arrival. It merely indicates physical presence as opposed to remote presence through aircraft, artillery, telescopes, satellites, spies, etc.
    – phoog
    Jun 7, 2020 at 8:15

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