Along the foot of a tilted, red rock a porcupine came nosing and grubbing. It broke open a tiny shelter of sticks and some meagre, round-eared little creature, all eyes and bony limbs, fled across the stones.

I can't understand a grammatical role of all eyes and bony limbs. It seems to be a description of those little creatures, but I feel that in this case there should be a participle or a verb: something like round-eared little creature, all are eyes and bony limbs emphasising that these body parts seem to be only ones they consist of (I think it is what the author meant); or some preposition tying the description to little creatures: little creatures with eyes and bony limbs ....

  • "All" in this case basically means "entirely": the little creature is entirely eyes and bony limbs. I'll let someone else explain the exact grammatical logic behind why there is no verb there; it might be a reduced relative clause, but don't take my word for it. – stangdon Apr 18 '16 at 16:11
  • You might find it easier to grasp the syntax if you assume a "deleted" which was before the adjectival phrase (which could occur in a simpler sentence such as The round-eared little creature was all eyes and bony limbs). – FumbleFingers Apr 18 '16 at 16:34
  • @FumbleFingers, summarising your comment and answer by JavaLatte could we say that skipping a verb is a device intended to give a quick but vivid impression about those little creatures? – Vitaly Apr 18 '16 at 16:45
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    I don't think there's any special reason to associate the usage with giving a quick but vivid impression any more than any other adjectival usage. Those associations arise simply because of the semantics of all X - where X can be any appropriate noun(s) or adjective(s). Thus John stood there, all smiles is just a common way of merging the two sentences John stood there. John was all smiles which makes it explicitly clear that both things were happening at the same time (they're not part of a "sequential narrative" where one thing follows another). – FumbleFingers Apr 18 '16 at 16:56
  • @fumblefingers, I think you are ignoring the idiomatic element to all smiles. It's not just merging two sentences describing two things happening at the same time: it's a vignette (if one is allowed to use that term on ELL). dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/be-all-smiles – JavaLatte Apr 18 '16 at 17:20

"all noun1 and noun2" is an idiomatic way of giving a quick but vivid impression of something. Examples are:

all mouth and trousers - somebody who talks and acts manly but fails to live up to it

all blood and thunder - melodromatic novels

all skin and bones - somebody painfully thin

You will also see "all noun1 no noun2", for example

all wax and no wick

All the gear, no idea - somebody who has bought the latest equipment for a sport but is hopeless.

all meat no potatoes

It is possible to use just "all noun1" as well.

all smiles - for somebody who is unexpectedly cheerful

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    This is something called a phrase. That is the grammatical role of this structure. Several types of phrases exists, such as noun phrases, participial phrases, gerund phrases... They do not necessarily contain a verb, unlike clauses. In your case this is a noun phrase serving as a noun adjunct — it modifies "creature". – Random Dude Apr 18 '16 at 16:28

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