On several occasions I read or heard expressions like "look you in the eye" (without "at" between the verb and the pronoun). This struck me as incorrect. Yet the same people who use this construct always use "look at" in most other contexts. So perhaps is it just colloquial and not used in formal discourse by convention ? Can the experts clarify ?

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    It is correct. It means to gaze directly and frankly into the other person's eyes. It does not mean to observe (as look at does) but to engage in a form of visual communication. It is often used figuratively. "Can you look me in the eye and say that?" when no actual looking is involved. In other words, Can you say that without averting your eyes, you shifty b_st_rd. It follows the same structural pattern as "look a horse in the mouth." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 23 '15 at 14:44
  • As a non-native speaker, if a sentence is constructed within the range in which native speakers understand what it means, we could regard the sentence as a grammatically correct sentence, even though it does not follow the normal rules of grammar. And let's think in this way if the sentence were written just as 'Look you', then, we could not define 'Look you' and know what it would mean, because without adding 'in the eye' that can have a few of different meanings, but just by adding 'in the eye' to it, the ambiguousness can be resolved and the meaning can be fixed in one way. – SinK May 9 '18 at 17:08
  • So, the sentence is understandable and acceptable as having a distinct meaning. – SinK May 9 '18 at 17:11

I think it's basically an idiom that does not follow the normal rules of grammar.

When "look" -- and "stare" -- are used in a phrase with modifiers, we generally drop the "at". "Look him in the eye", "stare him down", "look it over", etc.

I suppose this might be considered somewhat informal, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it in academic writing, etc.

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    I agree that it's an idiom, but would you really consider it "non-standard"? IMHO, I think it's pretty standard (and if someone said "look at him/her/me in the eye", I'd feel that that someone's usage is non-standard): look someone in the eye/face: to look at someone when you are talking to them, especially to show that what you are saying is true. – Damkerng T. Sep 23 '15 at 14:56
  • @DamkerngT. the dictionary you quote classifies it as "informal" though – Ewan Delanoy Sep 23 '15 at 14:57
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    @EwanDelanoy Informal and non-standard are not the same, I believe. – Damkerng T. Sep 23 '15 at 14:58
  • @DamkerngT. Yes, poor choice of words, I just edited. By "non-standard" I meant "doesn't follow the normal rules of grammar", not "is rarely used" or "is limited to speakers of a regional dialect". – Jay Sep 23 '15 at 15:01

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