I’m wondering exactly which grammatical role the word hell takes on in expressions such as

Get the hell out of here

the hell in this case seems to modify the phrasal verb to get out (get out of here quickly may have a similar meaning depending on the context), so I would classify it as an adverb, even though hell itself is a noun. I suspect that the reason for using the hell is that there is no other way of forming an adverb out of hell in an obvious and easily understandable way.

Is the hell simply an adverbial phrase (in addition to being an expletive)? If so, is there a name for creating adverbial phrases from nouns in this way?

(Originally, I was interested in the analogous expression involving f*ck.)

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    Usage of the hell, plus selected short subjects like heck and the hell you say, is covered here. Jan 1, 2015 at 14:44
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    A catcher title for this question would have been: “What the hell is ‘the hell’ for in this sentence?” :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 1, 2015 at 15:23
  • @tchrist The original title had the f-word in it (in fact, the original question was about "the f*ck" rather than "the hell"). Jan 1, 2015 at 15:25
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    I was wondering about that. It’s a valid question, and I think your question would benefit from mentioning in the body (but not the title, which we try to keep at a PG-13 level) variants like what the fuck, what the devil, what in hell, what the heck, what the blazes, what in the world, what in heaven, what in God’s name, what in the name of all that’s holy — and so and so forth. Some dialects may have other taboo terms there, like what the shit.
    – tchrist
    Jan 1, 2015 at 15:30
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    Finding the equivalent expression in neighboring languages may also shed light on what’s going on here. For example, the best Spanish translation of “What the fuck do you want?” is “¿Qué coño quieres?”, using a different expletive: coñocunt. Likewise “I can’t see a fucking thing!” becomes “¡No veo un coño!” to carry the same strength. Similarly, this related question looks for a French translation, which also has regional variants.
    – tchrist
    Jan 1, 2015 at 15:37

4 Answers 4


I'm not so sure it modifies the verb. When you say what the hell is wrong with you?, it sounds more like it modifies what. But perhaps it is better to say the phrase is a disjunct that modifies the whole sentence or clause: it expresses the attitude of the speaker towards the clause as a whole, I would be inclined to think.

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    I agree completely. Trying to identify grammatical role from location within the matrix sentence is unprofitable or probably worse. The intensifier is virtually doing the same job as bolding, italicising and adding an exclamation mark would do. So is it the 'bolding-part-of-speech'? I'd put it in the 'pragmatic marker / informal sentence intensifier' category if I felt the need to. Jan 1, 2015 at 15:54

The hell is, I believe, just a phrasal exclamation, used as an intensifier. It is used in "get the hell out of here" as a mock-adverb, but it can be a mock-adjective ("What the hell is this?") or mock-noun ("The hell you say!")


The adverbial group "the hell" is simply an intensifier often used after question words as in - What the hell are you doing here? expressing strong annoyance. It can be used in imperatives as in your example with the same function.


It is an interjection (latin), something you "throw in" to show emotion.

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    What's Latin about it? Jan 2, 2015 at 0:06
  • @DavidRicherby, I think he means that "interjection" (the word and the practice) comes to us straight from Latin (interjectiō). I think I once heard that Latin is the first major language to have this? Jan 2, 2015 at 6:45
  • inter is latin and iacere is latin, too Jan 2, 2015 at 7:40

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