We often say "burn someone to death" (burn + somebody/something + to + noun)


"burn someone alive" (burn + somebody/something + adjective)

The word "black" can be both an adjective and a noun.

Are these valid, "He burned the toy black" and "He burned the toy to black"?

  • 3
    That wouldn't be natural phrasing in English. No preposition at all sounds terrible, and plain to doesn't work well here either. You could say He burnt it until it was black, or rephrase to He blackened it by burning / by fire / in the flames / etc. Depending on what the toy was made of, it might be more idiomatic to say He burnt it to a crisp. Jan 9, 2021 at 13:59
  • 2
    ...note that literal He stabbed her to death (and metaphorical He bores me to death) are well-established, just as and it's also fine to say He shot her dead. But that's primarily because the first thing we probably want to know after being told someone stabbed or shot someone is Did they die? But if you're told someone burnt something, how likely is it you'd immediately be wondering Was it burnt so badly that it turned black? Jan 9, 2021 at 14:04
  • 2
    My mother often served sausages that were burnt black. Jan 9, 2021 at 14:07
  • 2
    @MichaelHarvey: Yes, idiomatically, food that's normally cooked can be overcooked, in which case it's natural enough to say it was burnt black. Not such a natural usage when applied to things that aren't normally cooked / burnt. Jan 9, 2021 at 14:29
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica - "By the time the fire was extinguished, Mallali was burnt black all over. It then took her 24 hours to die." - The Irish Times, "the skin of the head was burnt black, the lower and upper jaw and skull were fractured" - Inquest report (Falkland Islands. 1923) Jan 9, 2021 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


It is unusual to say that somebody burned something 'to black'. We can say that somebody burnt (British) or burned (US) something black if we mean that they burnt it, or caused it to be burnt, so long that it became black in colour.

Her older sister Miriam, who also has come to Langley Park, can still vividly describe how the guerrillas seized a bus she was riding to market and burned it black while all the passengers lay in a ditch.

Washington Post Magazine (1997)

We could make a book,” said Violet. “We have all the papers left from bundles.”

“So we could,” replied Jessie. “But what could we use to make the words?”

“We could use a burned stick out of the fire,” said Violet.

So Jessie put the end of a long stick into the fire and burned it black. Then she used the burned end to make words.

The Boxcar Children Mysteries

Refurbished this chainsaw bear recently. After wire-brushing off the old finish I burned it black and gave it several coats of TotalBoat Gleam.

Doug Pisik, wood artist


When something is burned it is often completely destroyed. An exception is when skin or a person is burned, where a mild burn makes the skin red or blister, and so to be burned black would be extreme burning of the skin. "Burn something black" seems to suggest extreme burning, but paradoxically, if a wooden or plastic toy is burned completly it doesn't go black but turns to ash.

It is possible that you mean that the toy was burned so the outside was blackened, but the basic shape remained; you mean it was only slightly burned. The verb for this is "char". It means slightly burned so the outside is (partly) blackened, but not so turned to ash.

Angrily she threw the toy in the fire, but her father fished it out with the poker and luckily it was only charred.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .