I've come across the following sentence recently:

"I won't stay longer than I can help."

I've heard similar uses of "can help" in other contexts and they all sounded strange to me. Shouldn't we say :

"I won't stay longer than I can't help."

In the same manner, doesn't it sound strange to say:

"I'm not driving at night, unless I can help it"

Shouldn't one say "unless I can't help it"?

  • 3
    I think you've identified an illogical expression, along the lines of "I could care less" rather than "I couldn't care less". For "unless I can't help it", people use both "can" and "can't", and searching in Google books it seems roughly 50-50. Aug 27, 2014 at 15:54
  • 1
    It's not illogical. "The length of my stay won't exceed the length of time in which I am able to help."; "I'll be here as long as I can help; when I can no longer help, I will leave".
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 27, 2014 at 15:57
  • @PeterShor: +1, although I will note that "I could care less" may be viewed as an elliptical rendering of "[As if] I could care less."
    – Robusto
    Aug 27, 2014 at 16:02
  • @Dan Bron You're not just arguing against Peter, but against Kingsley Amis. Aug 27, 2014 at 18:29
  • You mean the Kingsley Amis who should be contradicted at regular intervals?
    – Greybeard
    Oct 10, 2020 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


No, one shouldn't.

If you can help it, you won't do it.

"I won't stay longer than I can help."

Maybe better is

"I won't stay longer than I can manage."


"I will not stay longer if I don't need to"

or alternatively

"I will stay longer if I do need to."


they all sounded strange to me.

They are not:

"I couldn't help staying - I had come with John and he had to make the final speech."

"I won't stay longer than I can help [staying].

"I won't eat any more than I can eat."

"I won't pay more than I can afford."


I can help,myself. Now focus on myself. The sentence is "I won't be longer than I can help". This will be the maximum time i will be there and not a second more because after a second i would not be able to help myself to stay at that particular place. The part "I can help" is supporting I won't be longer.


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