“Can’t Help” Construction

“Can’t Help” Construction

Although help is one of the most common English verbs, learners sometimes have difficulty using it in certain constructions. Let’s learn them and make no mistakes!


If you can’t help something, you can’t stop yourself doing it:

  • Watching the funny animals video, I couldn’t help laughing.
  • When I found out that John had become an addict, I couldn’t help crying.
  • I shouldn’t have said it but I couldn’t help myself. (= I know I had to keep my mouth shut, but I wasn’t able to do it.)
  • I couldn’t help thinking he needed my help. (= I had good reason for thinking he needed my help.)
  • I can’t help feeling there is something wrong with her. (= I feel there is something wrong with her.)

If you say I can’t help feeling instead of I feel or I think, you express your opinion in a more indirect way: 1) I can’t help feeling that this may be a trap. 2) I couldn’t help feeling he was playing with us. This is an example of vague language.


Use (sb.) couldn’t help it if to say that someone can’t be blamed for something:

  • I am a very emotional person, and I couldn’t help it if my emotions took over.
  • He suffers from amnesia, and so he can’t help it if he forgets things.
  • She is a celebrity, and she cannot help it if paparazzi follow or even chase her.
  • I can’t help it if people lie and cheat and do bad things.
  • I gave you the directions. I can’t help it if you moved the wrong way.

Related: “Conditionals


If there is no way something can be prevented from happening, it can’t be helped:

  • The company is going to declare itself bankrupt. I’m afraid it can’t be helped.
  • Once Titanic hit the iceberg, it was doomed to sink. it couldn’t be helped.
  • I really hate those words “it can’t be helped”.
  • Stop thinking about it, it can’t be helped.
  • If you think climate change can’t be helped, you’re wrong. We need to take action right now.


We use the phrase to say that someone is trying to avoid something they don’t like doing:

  • They never attend family events if they can help it.
  • We shouldn’t make any important decisions now, if we can help it
  • It’s so hot here that no one goes outside during the day if they can help it.
  • Are you going to watch the school play? – Not if I can help it.
  • Are you going to stay very long? – Not if I can help it.

Note that this construction is usually used with a negative verb form.

When I see the dog, I can’t help smiling.


I can’t help doing something = I can’t help but do something:

  • I can’t help but smile when I see the dog in the picture.
  • I can’t help but look at you. You are so beautiful.
  • You know, I can’t help but see the irony in all of this.
  • I can’t help but care about what other people think. How can I stop worrying about it?
  • I can’t help but keep this love a secret and bury it deeply in my heart. What else can I do if he doesn’t love me?


And what can’t you help doing?…

The lyrics are here.

Useful vocabulary from the dong:

  • fools rush in – used for saying that people who are not sensible do things without thinking carefully about what may happen as a result: Wise men say only fools rush in. We can also add where angels fear to tread to the saying.
  • to be meant to be – if something is meant to be, it must happen, it is destined to happen: Some things are meant to be.
  • so it goes – that is life, such things happen: Darling, so it goes, some things are meant to be.

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