What's the difference between "can't help but" and "can't help"

Consider two examples:

  1. I can't help thinking about you.
  2. I can't help but think about you.

Do the two sentences mean same, or is there a difference?

I have no problem about understanding with first sentence, but I'm confused with the second sentence. Please explain with some examples.

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Chenmunka, choster, tchrist, Robusto Sep 19 '14 at 11:51

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The two are pretty much identical in meaning but I would say that there are slight nuances between them.

"I can't help but..."

Means something like:

I can't stop myself


"I can't help..."

Is closer to:

I do it without realising


If you ask the librarian for a book written in Urdu, and she has none in the collection, she can't help you, never "can't help but".

If you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, then you cannot control your impulses. You can't help it, but you exhibit undesirable behavior. There are other explanations for poor impulse control, including the obvious: you want to be rude.

Explaining my poor manners, I may explain to her, "I can't help staring at that beautiful necklace" or "I can't help but ask how you managed to get home after your car was stolen." The two forms, with and without but, are equivalent.

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