Many people use the phrase containing the hell, the earth when they get irritated.

Who in the hell are you?

But why only in is placed? We use Who on earth is X ?

Why don't we use?

  • Who on the hell are you?

Why only use these prepositions used in these sentences?

  • 5
    They're both metaphoric usages. We use the "container" metaphor for hell because it's usually thought of as a confined space (often, somewhere below the surface of the earth). But without wishing to ally myself with flat-earthers, everyone can see that we live and move about on (the surface of) the earth, not in it. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:55
  • Does one say "who in the hell"? Most commonly, "who the hell"; perhaps "who in hell". But who in the hell are you? seems unidiomatic. Where have you come across this usage?
    – verbose
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 0:01
  • @verbose youtube.com/watch?v=chroB_jTgrE
    – Nog Shine
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 3:57
  • Take a look at Google Ngrams: books.google.com/ngrams/…. who in the hell barely registers compared to who the hell.
    – verbose
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 10:09

1 Answer 1


Hell is a region, and for most large-scale places English uses the preposition "in" to describe location.

I am currently living in the United States.

She is sightseeing in Hollywood.

He is the tallest man in the U.K.

"On" is used for more specific locations that (more or less) you can physically be on top of

She is standing on Hollywood Boulevard.

He is on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

I am on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Of course this idiomatic expression is metaphorical, since whoever they are, they didn't actually come from Hell. It just implies that they look like something that you might find in Hell, were you to visit.

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