What is the correct way to use infinitive after the verb "help": with or without "to"?

For example:

Please, help me to understand this.


Please, help me understand this.

  • If the question had been asked now , it would have faced a lot of criticism. did you not consult the dictionary or so on or so forth.I do not know what research had the OP done to ask this question.There is nothing to say.Help is followed by both to infinitive and bare infinitive.There is much ado about nothing. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 15:42
  • Proposed title: "Help me [to?] understand how to use an infinitive after the verb 'help'" Commented Feb 4 at 16:04

11 Answers 11


The particle "to" is not wrong in this sentence, but it is unnecessary. I would recommend against using it.

The phrase "to understand" can be interpreted as a special case of the infinitive; a kind of future infinitive or impersonal future tense. In that context, the first sentence means, essentially, "please help me develop an understanding of this (in the future)". While that may be technically correct, it adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence.

To add some weight to my argument, the COCA lists 142 entries for "help me understand" versus only 18 for "help me to understand". The results are similar for other constructions involving "help me ..." versus "help me to ...".

I think that the confusion stems from the way you must use the infinitive in other cases, for example: "I want to understand this", or "I am trying to understand this". In these cases, the particle is an absolute neccesity.

  • 4
    the "to" might not BE wrong but it sure feels wrong to me. I'd strongly recommend not using it with "help me ... " . Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 19:19
  • 1
    @Mr. Shiny and New: I agree. It feels like a stumbling block when reading the sentence.
    – e.James
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 20:17
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    While in case of 'help' 'to' is merely redundant, with negative words it tends to reverse the intended meaning. "He stopped smoking" is obvious. "He stopped to smoke" - he stopped doing whatever he was doing, and began smoking instead.
    – SF.
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 14:28
  • This issue is not unique to the future tense - it also applies in the past and present - ""he helped me understand" versus "he helped me to understand". It is simply a question of whether to elide the "to", something which often arises in the use of the infinitive. Neither is more "correct" than the other.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 8:04
  • However, I hear "help to" more and more often nowadays for some reason. It always sounds very strange to me, but I came here thinking I'd learned it wrong. Turned out, everyone else is using it suboptimally. Cool. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 18:07

Help is a special verb in that way - the to is usually dropped from an infinitive when it is modifying help. This form of infinitive is called the bare infinitive:

  • The bare infinitive is used as the main verb after the dummy auxiliary verb do, or most modal auxiliary verbs (such as will, can, or should). So, "I will/do/can/etc. see it."
  • Several common verbs of perception, including see, watch, hear, feel, and sense take a direct object and a bare infinitive, where the bare infinitive indicates an action taken by the main verb's direct object. So, "I saw/watched/heard/etc. it happen." (A similar meaning can be effected by using the present participle instead: "I saw/watched/heard/etc. it happening." The difference is that the former implies that the entirety of the event was perceived, while the latter implies that part of the progress of the event was perceived.)
  • Similarly with several common verbs of permission or causation, including make, bid, let, and have. So, "I made/bade/let/had him do it." (However, make takes a to-infinitive in the passive voice: "I was made to do it.")
  • After the had better expression. So, "You had better leave now."
  • With the verb help. So, "He helped them find it." (The use of the to-infinitive with the verb help is also common.)
  • With the word why. So, "Why reveal it?" (Use of the to-infinitive following why is also common.)
  • The bare infinitive is the dictionary form of a verb, and is generally the form of a verb that receives a definition; however, the definition itself generally uses a to-infinitive. So, "The word 'amble' means 'to walk slowly.'"
  • The bare infinitive form coincides with the present subjunctive form as well as the imperative form, but most grammarians do not consider uses of the present subjunctive or imperative to be uses of the bare infinitive.
  • 1
    Two hyperlinks to complete drɱ65 δ's answer: −−− bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/…−−− englishgrammar.org/bare-infinitive-2
    – None
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 17:49
  • Yes; that's why I chose the word usually. Wikipedia makes a note of that as well.
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 0:39
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    Does this explain whether "The only thing one can do with a donut is eat it." is correct versus "The only thing one can do with a donut is to eat it."?
    – semantax
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 0:42
  • Yes it does. The Wikipedia link was changed and the page updated, so I just re-linked the page properly. Now if you click on the link in my answer, you will come to the updated Wikipedia section on bare infinitives. Among the examples, it says "As a predicative expression in pseudo-cleft sentences of the following type: What I did was tie the rope to the beam. What you should do is invite her round for dinner."
    – Daniel
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 13:54
  • 'The use of the to-infinitive with the verb help is also common.' does not substantiate 'Help is a special verb in that way – the to is usually dropped from an infinitive when it is modifying help.' Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 19:01

I think you may find there is also a difference here between US and GB English (a field worth writing a book about!). From experience, I'd say "help...to" is more prevalent in British English and less common in the US. As a British translator (from German) I've sometimes had "help to + infinitive" corrected to just "help + infinitive" by US editors.

  • Oh, this makes so much sense now! Before moving to the UK, I'd rarely hear anyone use "help to", but now, it's everywhere, hence me looking it up on StackExchange. It's good to know I can still continue using it without the "to". Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 18:09

The particle to is what's called a Complementizer. It marks the verb following as an Infinitive (in English, that's necessary because English infinitive verb forms are identical with the present tense forms -- to go, I go; to sit, I sit, except for the single verb be (I am, to be). More on infinitive complements here

To is not a part of the verb that follows it, nor yet a part of whatever comes before it. It's a particle; one of those troublesome little words like the, that, of, at, etc. which English uses to decorate and distinguish its syntactic constructions, now that all its morphology's gone.

Infinitives get used in a variety of ways. One of them is as Complement clauses; these are Noun clauses that can function as the subject or direct object of a number of verbs. It's one of the principal ways we can form complex sentences. This particular chunk -- helping their son win the fight -- has a clause something like {their son wins the fight} as the direct object of helping.

As Daniel observes, help is unusual in that it doesn't require to, although it also doesn't forbid it. Both are grammatical, and there's no meaning difference; it's just stylistic -- that means some people will feel one is more formal than the other, but won't be able to agree on which one.

  • I helped him to win the prize.
  • I helped him win the prize.

Different people, in different contexts, may find some distinction here, but not much.

Some other verbs that can omit to before an infinitive object complement include

  • all modal auxiliaries (will, would, may, might, can, could, shall, should, must)
  • go and come in certain constructions (go be his assistant, come sit by me)
  • do in all its uses:
    • do-support do: Do you own that house?
    • emphatic do: He does own that!
    • active do: What he does is (to) read books.
  • You say "This particular chunk -- helping their son win the fight -- has a clause something like {their son wins the fight} as the direct object of helping." It means help is an 'ECM' verb. But, from the knowledge I had of different types of verbs, I thought the verb " help" was an "object control"/"Di-transitive" verb. So, which one of these analyses seems correct to you: I helped [him to win the prize]; help as mono-transitive Or I helped [him] [him to win the prize]; help as di-transitive?
    – Mr. X
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 7:17
  • I have no idea what you think an 'ECM' verb is, nor why help taking an infinitive complement makes it one. I also have no idea what knowledge you had of different types of verbs. So I can't choose between two unknown analyses, sorry. One clue is that no verb is ever always of one type; there are always exceptions, idioms, and constructions where it's got a different function. This is especially true for light verbs like help. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 16:14
  • Actually, I'm neither a linguist nor a student of grammar. I'm just someone who is a little interested in English grammar. There are countless number of rules and exceptions that make English very hard to understand. Anyway, just one question: can a verb, for example "convince" with its meaning "to persuade or make someone certain" or any other verb for that matter, follow different analyses depending on the context (for example, in some contexts 'ECM' and in others 'Object Control')? Thank you.
    – Mr. X
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 20:03
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    Thank you for that link. That was really helpful. You say "I would consider it to be a case of B-Equi." So, how would you classify the verb 'help' in the following sentence: 'I helped him to win the prize.' or 'I helped him win the prize?' To me, it seems to be acting as 'B-raising.' what do you think? Also, could you please give me an example of a verb which can follow two different analyses (B-Equi and B-raising) depending on the context, that is, sometimes it acts as B-Equi and other times as B-raising, depending on the context of course?
    – Mr. X
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 9:22
  • 1
    Yes, it appears to be B-Raising. Look in the exercises of the link for examples of verbs that can swing both ways. The difference is about cases where the putative object can be independently required in both predications, or whether it makes sense in only one. Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 0:12

The plain form of the verb is preceded by the particle to in most instances where it follows another verb, so we would have to say, for example, Encouraging you to master Russian and not *Encouraging you master Russian. After the verb help, however, to is optional, and after some other verbs it is even disallowed. We cannot say *Making you to master Russian and we cannot say *Letting you to master Russian*.

The particle to is not really part of the verb at all. Not only is it not required after help, it is not allowed at all following modal verbs, or make, see, hear and let.


"Helping you to master Spanish." is the grammatically complete and correct way to write it. However, "Helping you master Spanish." is also correct - the to can be omitted as it is understood. This is permitted by grammar.


The passive forms, though queried by Quirk, are used.

"I was helped clean" shows 3 Google hits.

"I was helped to clean" shows 2950 Google hits. (at my space-time coordinates)

This is how I felt the breakdown would be.

While I have no problem in accepting both "I helped clean" and "I helped to clean" as equally grammatical, I feel the bias in favour (sorry, favor) of the omission of the infinitive-marker as superfluous might be dented a little when the no-to advocates try to explain why to seems to be considered necessary in the passive.

  • 1
    Are you saying you find “I helped to clean the house” grammatical? ’Cause it sure ain’t to me. “I helped him to clean the house” is all right, but without the object, the to is quite impossible in my idiolect. “I was helped (to) clean the house” is borderline ungrammatical to me too, though. Certainly not a phrasing I would ever in my wildest dreams consider using. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 22:00
  • 'Grammatical' is ill-defined. I would have no problem at all using/accepting in an essay 'I helped to clean the house'. (Collins Cobuild English Usage: ) 2. 'help' as an intransitive verb You can also use help as an intransitive verb, followed by an infinitive with or without to. If someone helps do something or helps to do it, they help other people to do it. The taxi driver helped to carry the bags into the hotel. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 22:16

Both are correct, although including to is useless. Without it, the sentence is perfectly understandable.

It's usually thought to be American (without "to") vs. British (with "to") English, but both countries use them interchangeably, so this thought is false.

Your best bet is to leave it out - your sentences will be clear and easier to understand. If you leave it in, your sentence will still be correct, though.

There are cases when you can't place to anywhere, like:

Help me off the ladder, please.

  • 2
    Help me [[to] get] off the ladder.
    – teylyn
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 11:44
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    Sure, you can add many useless words to make the sentence as long as possible, so that you fall from the ladder before you finish saying it.
    – Frantisek
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 14:25
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    There are no useless words. "Help me off the ladder" is a possible shorter version of "Help me to get off the ladder". The "to get" can be omitted.
    – teylyn
    Commented May 7, 2011 at 23:05
  • 5
    It's not actually entirely false that it's a British vs American thing: counting the instances of "Help us [verb]" versus "Help us to [verb]" in BNC and COCA suggests that the "to" is used 53% of the time in British English, but only 15% in US English. So while both dialects use both forms, there is a definite stylistic bias :-)
    – psmears
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 21:35

The to in to do is not a preposition, it is an infinitive marker. It marks the use of the infinitive form of a verb.

With the phrase "helping [person] X" where X is some verb phrase (most likely an action), then the infinitive marker can be dropped.

This inflatable is helping you swim

Is the same as

This inflatable is helping you to swim


His instructor is helping him master Russian

Is the same as

His instructor is helping him to master Russian


I remember reading a good while ago (I think in a book published by the Reader's Digest called The Right Word at the Right Time) that it is correct to use help to when an inanimate object is providing the help, and merely help when a person is providing the help. I'm not at all sure how well that advice matches actual usage.

  • 2
    "The glasses helped him read the blackboard" vs. "The glasses helped him to read the blackboard" -- inanimate object or no, I still prefer the version without "to".
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 14:57
  • How about "He was helped read the blackboard by having a new pair of glasses"? Incidentally, I think TRiG has got it the wrong way round with the RD citation above, and they are certainly only mentioning some authors' preferences, without themselves endorsing them. Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 21:10

There is a subtle difference in meaning.

Please, help me to understand this

Means, literally, ‘please get involved in my process of understanding (the ‘learning activity’ involved in being able to understand’ - this).

It means ‘assist me in my journey of becoming someone who already understands’ or ‘is able to understand’ whatever it is).

I am looking to acquire ‘a state’ of being able ‘to understand’.

Please, help me understand this.

Focuses more on the topic that is desired to be understood. Whatever ‘this’ is, in the discussion.

It means ‘please help me understand the topic - ‘cooking pancakes’ or ‘bevelling marble’ or ‘arranging tulips’ etc.

Examples ‘to understand’:

  • ‘Professor - can you please help me to understand this trinomial equation method?’ (a process) ‘Yes, you must add a, b, then c’.
  • to bus conductor ‘can you please help me to understand this?’ - pointing at bus map - process of how to use it. ‘What are the yellow lines? And what do the green lines represent?’ (process) ‘Yellow lines are day buses, green are night’
  • ‘Can you help me to understand how I get to haberdashery via art supplies and fashion, in this department store, please? (‘Help me with my process’) ‘Up to 1st floor Haberdashery, right through Art, take the lift to 3rd for fashion’.

So, the answer will ‘guide your journey’ or process. In becoming a person who is able ‘to understand’.

Examples ‘understand this’:

  • Can you help me understand this? (Pointing at lumpy pancake batter) ‘well you put your milk in too soon. Should have mixed the eggs first. That’s why this is so lumpy!’ (Focus is on ‘this’ - the batter)

  • Can you help me understand this? (Pointing at rough edge of marble bevel) ‘well you’ve got your chisel at the wrong angle! That’s why this is all rough!’ (Focus is on ‘this’ - the marble)

  • Can you help me understand this? (Pointing at droopy tulips) ‘Well, you didn’t pierce the ends with a pin before putting them in the vase, did you? That’s why this wilting has happened!’ Focus is on ‘this’ - the tulips)

https://medium.com/@english_grammar/how-to-use-preposition-in-english-grammar-on-at-in-of-for-2fdb11e80029] Look at the definition of ‘to’. While ‘to understand’ is an infinitive, the word ‘to’ is still in there, with its meaning of ‘heading towards’ something.

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