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What is the correct way to use infinitive after the verb “help”: with or without “to”?
“Help rule out” vs. “help to rule out”

I've seen the verb "help" be used transitively and intransitively - in the latter case, followed by the preposition "to" - in various sentences. For example, these should have identical meaning:

I'll help you do it. / I'll help you to do it.
Jim helps run the shop. / Jim helps to run the shop.

Should it be used intransitively in this way, though? If we have a transitive version, doesn't it make sense to use that instead if we're using this verb with an infinitive? It also seems to me that using "help" intransitively in this way can lead to ambiguity; for example:

It helps to buy holidays.

... could mean that some previously stated thing helps with the process of buying holidays, or that buying holidays - in general - helps something. What would be the more likely meaning of the above sentence?

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, kiamlaluno, jwpat7, tchrist, Mitch Aug 9 '12 at 16:32

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This one has more different constructions in it, and considerable confusion as well. –  John Lawler Jul 26 '12 at 4:19
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The to in all of the sentences above is not a preposition.

It's an infinitive complementizer, i.e, a meaningless word that introduces the verb in an infinitive clause complement, the same way the complementizer that introduces a tensed clause complement in

  • I think that you're wrong.

Such complementizers are often deleted, though this depends on the matrix verb.

  • I think you're wrong.

In the case of help, the to complementizer is optional for Object complements

  • I helped her to pick out the presents.
  • I helped her pick out the presents.

but required for Subject complements

  • To buy bread daily helps me.
  • *Buy bread daily helps me.

even when they're Extraposed and leave a Dummy it in subject position

  • It helps me to buy bread daily.
  • *It helps me buy bread daily.

However, if the it is not a dummy, and actually refers to some real thing, then the complement is an object complement, not a subject complement, and the to is optional.

  • It (i.e, the bus line) helps me buy bread daily.

To avoid confusion, avoid ambiguous pronouns, and distinguish dummy it from referential it.

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Starting from your last question:

It helps to buy holidays.

could mean either of the interpretations that you offer, depending on the context given.

As for the previous question, the verb to help is normally mentioned in grammar books and dictionaries as a verb which may or may not be followed by a full infinitive form (see for example this entry in the Oxford dictionary.) 

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+1, good answer. –  user19148 Jul 25 '12 at 22:50
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