I have gone through (almost?) all the posts pertaining "help somebody (to) do" to find the two forms (with "to" or without) are the same in meaning.

It came to my attention that bare infinitives in "verb1 object verb2" (e.g.: to make Alice cry) entails the object in the structure is actually the subject of verb2.

Thus, can I, by analogy, believe the following?

  1. "A helps B do C." --means that B does C, and A helps in an insignificant manner as to be overlooked.

  2. "A helps B to do C." --means that A does the heavy lifting of C, while B, for his/her incompetence or laziness, awaits results.


See edit below

I'd stick to what you previously gathered from reading posts on the subject.

Take the sentence I helped John do his homework. By your theory, it would imply that I only assisted while John did most of it by himself. However, most people would get the other reading, i.e. I did most if not all of the homework. If I wanted to mean that John did most of it, I'd say I helped John with his homework.

On the other hand, I helped John lose weight. obviously means that John was the one who lost weight, not me. If I wanted to say that I was the one who lost the weight (say we're on the same team in a weight loss challenge), I'd say something like I lost weight in John's place.

Basically, it's all circumstantial and the to is semantically redundant.


Upon further consideration, I'd say dropping the to in A helped B do C creates a stronger reading for A doing C. This is apparent when you look at the frequencies for examples where A can't do C like the I helped John lose weight example I gave: help(s/ed) him/her to lose weight turns up almost 4 times more frequently in Google than help(s/ed) him/her lose weight (853700 / 219150).

On the other hand, help(s/ed) him/her do his/her homework shows up more than 2 times more frequently than help(s/ed) him/her do to his/her homework (66280 / 29630). This is because in the case of helping someone (to) do their homework, usually it means doing it in their place.

TL;DR: A helped B to do C if B is doing C, A helped B do C is A is doing C.

  • is it possible or likely for the strucuture to drop "to" because of existing clearer alternate expressions, or "to" is/has been pedantically used or dropped to make the distinction in my theory? – S.Z. May 21 '18 at 9:08
  • @user4877 I think you're on to something here because I can't think of any other structure in which the to can be dropped (at least not off the top of my head). However, I'd argue it's the opposite--dropping the to in A helped B to do C makes it clearer that A is doing C rather than B because the default syntax favors the other interpretation. – Zachary May 21 '18 at 9:30
  • @user4877 Just updated my answer; you might find it interesting :) – Zachary May 21 '18 at 9:54
  • The topic will get more interesting if we think about this sentence: I helped Jack (for example "with his chores") to lose weight. (It is definitely I who lost weight, right?) What do we make of this? – S.Z. May 21 '18 at 11:21
  • The issue got funny from interesting when I used COCA to check the frequency of "help(all verb forms) someone to lose weight" and "help someone lose weight". It turned out to be 8:156 – S.Z. May 21 '18 at 12:45

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