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He was bawling his eyes out.

I think if someone says 'He was bawling', this makes sense.

But in which way, was he bawling? Making his eyes out?

If I am correct, I would like to regard 'his eyes out' as a complement.

But purely seemingly, 'bawl' is a verb and 'his eyes' are a noun.

In 'General Verb+Noun', Noun is treated as an object.

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    This is an informal expression. As a baby, my little sister was always bawling her head off, but it doesn't seem to have affected her too much. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 20:21
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    "Crying his eyes out," is much more common: books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=crying+*+eyes+out%2Cbawling+*+eyes+out&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&case_insensitive=on&corpus=en-2019&smoothing=3 Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 20:26
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    My sister also used to sob her socks off. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 20:33
  • "Bawling" has two complements: the object "his eyes" and the prepositional complement "out". We know that "out" must be a complement because if its dropped the sentence becomes ungrammatical. Incidentally, objects are complements, but to avoid confusion we normally call them objects.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 8:08

2 Answers 2

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There's an idiomatic tradition in English of adding figurative phrases like "his eyes out", "her ears off", "their lungs out" and so on after intransitive action verbs.

They all have the structure [ possessive adjective + noun + particle ]. The only particles I can think of that are used in this structure are "out" and "off", but there may be more.

They all act as adverbials of manner, modifying the action verb.

They have the function of emphasizing the extent of the action.

So, to "bawl your eyes out" means to bawl hard and for a long time, as if long and hard enough to make your eyes come out -- but not really. To "talk someone's ears off" means to talk a lot, as a chatterbox does at a party. To "scream your lungs out" means to scream loud and for a long time, as sports fans do at a championship game.

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    I bet you worked your ass off composing that. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 7:15
  • Does this answer the question, though? What's the verdict on the grammatical relations? Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 9:31
  • It's more often done by someone or something else, but I'm doing my head in looks to me like a different preposition for the same basic construction. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 12:36
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    @FumbleFingers - in the army, 'doing your legs' means 'ruining your career prospects' and if my sister was late home my father used to do his nut. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 12:58
  • @MichaelHarvey: But he never "did his nut in", I bet! That sounds like a bungled home vasectomy! Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 13:03
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He was bawling his eyes out.

It's somewhat idiomatic but it can still be analysed.

Bawling" has two complements: the object "his eyes" and the prepositional complement "out".

We know that "out" must be a complement because if it is dropped the sentence becomes ungrammatical. Obligatory items are always complements.

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  • If the 'bawl' is instransitive, there is no object.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 20:49
  • @gomadeng In my analysis, "bawl" is transitive.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 5:52

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