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According to Collins Dictionary to burn something to the ground means to completely destroy it by fire. I have two questions regarding this phrase:

1- What is the exact connotation of it: Does it mean something is burnt completely from top to the ground? Or it implies collapsing and falling to the ground?

2- Are there other phrases having a similar pattern, i.e. v + to + something-as-an-end implying the verb is done completely? Is there a name for such a pattern?

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    You can burn something to a crisp, a cinder, or ...to ashes, for example. But there are an almost infinite variety of such "emphasizing" adverbial phrases for other verbs. And there are sometimes "subtle" constraints - I could Burn my steak to a cinder quite naturally, but I can only Cook my steak to a tee (it would be totally non-idiomatic in anything but a weirdly facetious context to Burn my steak to a tee). Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 18:48
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    w.r.t. The phrase definitely does not imply the direction, burning from the top downward, but the result--utter destruction. (I don't know the origin of this phrase, but it's worth noting to has many non-directional uses, like go to pot and broke to pieces; it can also mean until.) Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 19:18
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    Related are resultative secondary predicates (She shot him dead / he left the painting finished), though 'resulting' rather than 'completion' is the broader scope (thus 'she hammered the metal flat'; 'they painted the wall red'; 'he left the painting unfinished'. // 'They have been done (etc) to death'; 'it was blown to bits/smithereens/pieces' show your construction. Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 19:27
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    To the ground: collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/to-the-ground
    – user 66974
    Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 19:46
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    The connotation is: This house is burned to the ground while This one is not.
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 20:56

2 Answers 2

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to burn something to the ground

1- What is the exact connotation of it: Does it mean something is burnt completely from top to the ground? Or it implies collapsing and falling to the ground?

Possibly is the answer to both of these questions. It depends on the specific context that the "something" burns to the ground in. As Mike Graham mentions in the comments, the content of the phrase does not indicate a direction of the burn. So the burn might have (and probably did) start from the base/ground floor, and then rose through the height of the building, since a pattern of behavior for fire is to 'climb' or 'rise'. We don't know for sure, though. The fire may have started on the top floor, and then spread throughout the building from there. The phrase also does not, inherently, imply collapsing and falling. It's very likely that these actions occur -- either small or large scale -- during something burning to the ground, but "collapsing and falling" does not need to happen for the phrase to signal utter destruction.

As for what the result of "to burn something to the ground"... you could either take it literally, or metaphorically. If you take the phrase literally, then the connotation is that utter destruction began a point on the building or area, and continued until reaching "to the ground". That prepositional phrase is the how we know - it indicates the focus is on "a burning of the object to destruction," not only "the burning of something".

As for metaphorically, you could use the phrase in another context, where something is being destroyed utterly, but not by fire. For example, there is the slang term "to burn someone" as in "to thoroughly insult someone". If person A "burns" person B with an extremely harsh, but also accurate, insult... then we could say that metaphorically, person A "burnt person B to the ground," because the insult was so thorough.

2- Are there other phrases having a similar pattern, i.e. v + to + something-as-an-end implying the verb is done completely? Is there a name for such a pattern?

I don't know of a name for this pattern, but here are some other similar phrases that are along the semantic line of "utter destruction"....

From Idioms on TheFreeDictionary.com:

run (oneself or something) into the ground
1. To work oneself to the point of illness or exhaustion.
2. To overuse or poorly maintain something, resulting in its destruction or loss of functionality.
3. To continue to discuss or address something—especially an issue or topic—that is no longer of any use or relevance.

or:

run somebody/something into the ground
1. use something so much that it breaks; make somebody work so hard that they are no longer able to work

And a slight variation again from TheFreeDictionary.com:

run (someone or something) to ground
1. To succeed in tracking down the location of someone or something after an extensive or exhaustive search.

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Well according to the Collins dictionary https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/to-the-ground to the ground means down to the ground, so both a fire can cause collapsing, or just burn something from the top down.

  1. The connotation is “X burned to the ground, but Y is standing.”
  2. To is an adjective it modifies or describes a verb, so it’s like we go to x store or run to home or finally burn to ashes. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/to

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