Sometimes expletive sentences contains these words, for example "I'll beat the hell/crap out of him"

  • With crap/shit, it’s clearly literal in origin—it’s a threat to beat someone so soundly they lose control of their bowels. That’s not so likely with hell, since I don’t think most people would think that we have hell inside us to begin with it. Feb 23, 2018 at 8:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - hell here just emphasizes the action, as in other idiomatic expressions, what the hell are you doing, etc.
    – user 66974
    Feb 23, 2018 at 8:35
  • @user5768790 Well, yes—my point was that the origin of using that particular word in this particular construction is clearly not literal. Unlike with crap/shit, “I’ll beat the hell out of you!” never in any literal sense meant “You have some hell inside you, and I am going to beat you so hard that the hell inside you is going to come out of you”. Feb 23, 2018 at 9:46

1 Answer 1


In the expression the hell out of, "the hell" (lower case) is used to emphasize the action you are referring to:

  • Used in verbal phrases to emphasize force, speed, etc.

The hell has a long history in idiomatic expressions where its function is mainly to add emphasis to the literal meaning of the sentence. According to Google Books the expression "beat the hell out of" is from 1920s and precedes other similar constructions such as "beat the crap/shit out of".

In the following piece, Professor, and ELU user John Lawler comments that:

  • To start with, "the hell" must be distinguished from "Hell!", or "Oh, hell!", which are full utterances (traditionally, "interjections", the last and least of the classical Eight Parts of Speech), the sort of thing you say when you've made a mistake, had a mistake made for you, or otherwise experienced the displeasure of Fortune. They are linguistically unusual in having no syntax -- "Oh, hell!" is a full utterance (though hardly a 'sentence' - no subject, no verb, etc.) and needs no further complement.

  • There are also some fixed phrases. "What the hell" is used to express disregard for conventional procedure and precautions, in varying degrees (the phrase has some of the same implications as "devil-may-care"). It is usually a phrasal interjection, without further syntactic ramifications:

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