I was reading this post, What should we greet a person at 10 o'clock in the night?, on ELL.

You could use both. "Tonight" would refer to the current time of day, but "today" could be seen as to refer to "this time around", "this work shift". – oerkelens

And the comment above reminded me of this expression said at stores

How can I help you, today?

Does today mean now; this time around? and not literally "today"?

  • 2
    Why do you think it might not be literally "today"? Nov 11 '16 at 13:54
  • 3
    I think you might be looking too deeply for meaning here. Yes, it literally means "on this day", but it's kind of a stock phrase. You are here today, and they want to help you today, that's all.
    – stangdon
    Nov 11 '16 at 15:17
  • 2
    This form emphasizes "today", as opposed to other days (past or future) where you might help someone. It can also be used sarcastically to someone who asks too many favors of you.
    – user3169
    Nov 12 '16 at 2:29
  • I would also add it is a bit of a colloquialism as you can see by how it has even made it into customer service handbooks. Mar 28 '17 at 11:57
  • Your interpretation is correct. In this situation, "today" is just a generic reference to the general time of that interaction, not a literal meaning of a specific date. Comparable phrases would be "on this visit", "while you're here", or even no time reference at all: "How can I help you?"
    – fixer1234
    Mar 28 '17 at 15:52

The use of "today" in

How can I help you today?

means for the duration of the rest of this day and so not as openended in time as

How can I help you?

Depending on context, you might interpret it as the person having a willingness to help you with something since they know you will have a busy day today

How can I help you with your busy day?

or it might mean the person, e.g. concierge, is working "today" but not tomorrow,

or it might just be a filler word with no intent behind the "today" since you could easily answer

Not today, but maybe tomorrow you could help me with...


When you say something will be done today, it means you intend for it to be completed by the end of the day.

In the case of things that don't take the entire day to actually do, you are implying you have the task on some sort of checklist or it is otherwise among your plans to complete for that day.

Today, I'm going to the store.

By the end of the day, you want to have gone to the store, and have that task completed. This is something you are or have been planning to do.

How can I help you today?

You are implying here that you want to have successfully helped the customer by the end of the day, even though the visit may not take the entire day.

The notion of a day when talking about "today" can be flexible according to the person speaking. A 2nd shift (3pm-11pm) or 3rd shift (11pm-6am) worker may still say he/she has to get things done "today", although "tonight" would work similarly.

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