And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don't think you can help but be involved.

Shouldn't it be cannot help but be involved? Is this a typo?

  • 1
    It's not a typo. There's nothing wrong with the sentence.
    – Varun Nair
    Sep 27, 2017 at 7:42
  • well , I do not understand "you can help but be involved". Why is it "but be involved"? Sep 27, 2017 at 7:52
  • "Can't help but be involved" would mean "can't resist being involved" or "can't avoid being involved". So, "I don't think you can help but be involved" means "I don't think you can resist being involved". It's correct.
    – rjpond
    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:14
  • I think using but causes the confusion here. I would use :"I don't think you can stop yourself from being involved." instead, which is easier to understand and avoids the issue.
    – user3169
    Sep 28, 2017 at 2:09

2 Answers 2


The key lies in the "I don't think". The author expresses the negation of an opinion. For example,

I don't think there is a cat in the box.

means that my belief is that "there is not a cat in the box." Similarly

I don't think you can help but be involved.

means that the author's belief is that "you cannot help but be involved" - as you correctly interpret. To understand an expressed negation of an opinion, you need to move the negation ("not") from the reporting verb ("think") into the opinion itself.


Please note that this may be far-fetched.

The key of understanding that sentence is looking out for the number of negations (negatives).

I don't think you can help but be involved.

Here, 'don't' is clearly a negation. Also, in this kind of usage, 'but' is also a negation.

Now, this is just a theory, and I cannot prove it.

In mathematics, two negations will yield a positive outcome. Here, the verb is 'can'. When the author says, 'I don't think you can', it simply means you 'cannot'. But then, he adds another negation to 'cannot', and that again makes it 'can'.

So to rephrase the sentence, for your better understanding,

"..And at this crucial time in our lives , when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival , I think you have to be involved."

Note: 'have' is not a substitute for 'can', but I've used only for the purpose of making the sentence easier to comprehend.

  • This is not farfetched! It’s a good answer; this is like two negatives making a positive. But it’s not “but” that is the relevant word; “help” is the word that’s “negative”, as @rjpond mentions above- it means “avoid”. “Can’t help” means basically “must”, as you show.
    – Mixolydian
    Mar 22, 2019 at 20:28

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