I came upon the phrase, "writing helps develop a child analytically thinking." Is this grammatically correct? Is it OK to use just develop instead of to develop?

  • This question is difficult to answer, because the title suggests that you're specifically curious about “helps develop,” but it's mainly awkward in other ways. You may want to change the title or the question to better reflect what you're looking for. – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 4:58
  • The quoted part aside, the question has enough errors of language. Voting to close as not constructive. – Kris Apr 20 '13 at 4:59
  • The bare infinitive part of the question is interesting and possibly worth saving, as it's a bit tricky to find an authoritative answer online. The rest is problematic though. Perhaps an edit can save it? – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 5:16
  • Source stating acceptability of help + bare infinitive: bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/… – this should go into one of the answers. – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 5:58
  • Please search the site before asking. The question has been asked, and answered, many times before. In fact it's in the top 100 most frequently asked questions here. – RegDwigнt Apr 20 '13 at 10:02

There's nothing inherently wrong with Writing helps develop ...; but a child analytically thinking is strained and at the first glance opaque.

A child's thinking analytically makes the relationship between the child and the thinking clearer, but it leaves it uncertain whether analytically modifies thinking or helps. I'd rewrite something like this:

Writing helps develop a child's ability to think analytically.

Or it may be that what you really mean is:

Writing helps a child develop the ability to think analytically.

But I'm a writer; so I'd attribute the writing definitively to the child, and there'd be no help about it:

A child who writes develops the ability to think analytically.

I am asked to substantiate my contention that ‘helps develop is OK’ in the face of an alternative contention that this use is “technically incorrect” and a challenge to “find a piece of writing prior to the 19th century that uses this clause. You simply cannot verb a verb.”

Well, of course you can verb a verb. I just did: catenation with the bare infinitive is mandatory with the full modals. It is also permitted with semi-modals such as need, dare and do. And usage on the ground demonstrates that help must be be included with these.

I don’t believe for a minute that “correct” contemporary usage is determined by the standards of the 18th and earlier centuries; but for what it’s worth, OED (fasc. Heel-Hod, 1898) remarks that “the infinitive normally has to, which however from 16th c. is often omitted”; it offers examples from Nicholas Udall (“To helpe garnishe his mother tongue”) and Chapman’s translation of Homer (1616), which so moved Keats (“Many helpfull men, That..would then Helpe beare his mightie seuen-fold shield”). To be sure, it goes on to say that “this is now dial. or vulgar”; but the 1987 Supplement explicitly rescinds this characterization, and says instead that “this is now a common colloq. form.”

In fact, it is not merely “colloquial”; it is today perfectly acceptable in the stuffiest academic writing, as the following citations demonstrate:

Alan Warwick Palmer. The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. 1994. Meanwhile, on the Salonika Front in the Balkans, the British divisions serving in General Franchet d'Esperey's multinational army would help defeat Germany's ally, Bulgaria …

Gerald R. Ford. “Special Message to Congress Urging Action on Pending Legislation”. July 22, 1976. The Administration believes that the Federal Government has a responsibility to help pay the cost of educating their children, but not to help pay the costs of other children whose parents pay local property taxes.

M.D. Rugg. Cognitive Neuroscience. 1997. Formalizing the theories will help show whether any differences are fundamental or terminological.

David Bloor. Knowledge and Social Imagery. 1991 [The history of mathematics] must help show how thoughts are produced and how they achieve, keep and lose the status of knowledge.

Jean O. Charney. A Grammar of Comanche. 1993. Such a rendering will help demonstrate how reference is maintained in Comanche subordination.

And perhaps of most interest to the immediate question:

Marcia Popp. Teaching Language and Literature in Elementary Classrooms. 1996. When students help develop criteria for evaluating writing, they look more closely at their own and others' work.

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  • I interpreted the original passage the same way, and those are good rewrites. “A child who writes ...” is good if the context is about the value of writing, but I would prefer “Writing helps ...” if it's in a context of several developmental activities, and writing is only part of the contribution. – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 4:47
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    It occurs to me that the questioner is more concerned about whether “helps develop” is grammatical, and “child analytically thinking” is a distraction. You may want to expand on the part of your answer that says “helps develop” is OK, with an explanation of why. – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 4:52
  • @BraddSzonye See my addition. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 20 '13 at 9:36
  • Excellent work! You might want to check out the question this is a duplicate of, in case your answer would be useful there too. – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 10:22

It should be "helps to develop" or "helps the development of." The phrase "helps develop" is grammatically incorrect because its demonstrates something performing an action on a verb. For instance, you can't jump an eat. However, the pattern of "helps (verb)" is very common, so much that the technical incorrectness of it will almost always go unnoticed.

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  • Good edit, much clearer – and welcome! Do you have any sources or evidence to back up the claim that it is technically incorrect but widely accepted? I was just looking for that myself, since I'm not actually sure whether it's grammatical. – Bradd Szonye Apr 20 '13 at 4:55
  • No, sorry, I can't find a source on it, but I challenge anyone to find a piece of writing prior to the 19th century that uses this clause. You simply cannot verb a verb. – Michael Hall Apr 20 '13 at 5:00
  • Well this isn't very specific but if you read on the different verb types you will notice that none of them fit the syntax of doing something to a verb. I suppose that is adequate? – Michael Hall Apr 20 '13 at 5:03
  • Ah, thanks for that. Yeah I realize that language changes and what not. And honestly, when speaking I almost always omit the "to" after help. However, when writing, I prefer that it sounds more formal. – Michael Hall Apr 20 '13 at 5:10
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    I agree that you can't say the nonsensical ‘jump an eat’ but I must disagree with the assertion that you can't ‘help develop’ (so do these authors, apparently). The verb help is versatile enough to be applied to other verbs, and I don't think anyone sounds "less smart" when it is. – J.R. Apr 20 '13 at 9:52

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