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!
I CAN’T HELP IT!
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.
I COULDN’T HELP IT IF…
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.
IT CAN’T BE HELPED
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.
NOT IF I CAN HELP IT
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.
CAN’T HELP BUT
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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