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Is it correct to say "Can I use your help.....?" E.g Can I use your help with fixing the radio?

It'll be a scenario where I need help with something. For the radio example, it'll be either to help figure out something technical or fix it together with me. It's basically asking for help and getting a response if he/she can or can't help me.

  • Of course you can say that, just as you can write it: it's perfectly grammatical. But it may not mean what you want it to mean: is there another way you can ask this? What do you hope the outcome of asking this would be? – Andrew Leach Aug 14 '18 at 12:38
  • @AndrewLeach It'll be a scenario where I need help with something. For the radio example, it'll be either help figure out something technical or fix it together with me. It's basically asking for help and getting a response if he/she can or can't help me. – pmbanugo Aug 14 '18 at 12:50
  • OK, thanks: could you click edit under your question and make it complete? – Andrew Leach Aug 14 '18 at 12:51
  • @AndrewLeach done! – pmbanugo Aug 14 '18 at 12:53
  • @AndrewLeach could you give an example where it's correct and where is wrong? Maybe in an answer below – philip oghenerobo balogun Aug 14 '18 at 13:37
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You ask if "Can I use your help with fixing the radio?" is correct.

My answer is yes and no. That depends on exactly what you are attempting to ask, which I find unclear. Here are some better--or at least more common-- ways of expressing that thought, as I interpret it:

  • Would you be willing to help me?

  • Are you able to help me?

  • Would you like to help me?

Another way of expressing the thought without using an interrogative is to say simply,

I could use your help.

By saying this you are in effect asking a person to help you and are waiting for the person to say either, "Yes, I can help you," or "Yes, I am willing to help you," or "No I can't help you" (the latter answer meaning either the person does not have the ability or skill to help you, or perhaps, for whatever reason, is not able to help you right now, but later might be able to help you.

  • Could you give some examples where it's correct and when it's not? – philip oghenerobo balogun Aug 14 '18 at 13:33
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    @philip oghenerobo balogun: Possibly. Suppose you are sitting at a workbench where you are trying to fix a radio, and someone else is trying fix a television. Out loud you say, "Gosh, am I having a hard time fixing this radio," at which point the other person looks up at you, so you ask, "Can I use your help fixing this radio?" Perhaps you do not know whether or not your employer (for example) allows workers to help one another, in which case you are asking "Can I [i.e., Am I allowed to] use your help fixing this radio?" My example may be a bit of a stretch, but that's all I have at the moment – rhetorician Aug 14 '18 at 22:09
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Asking "Can I...?" is asking whether you are actually capable of doing something. Asking "May I...?" asks whether you have permission to do something.

  • Can I eat a pound of peanut butter [without being sick]?
  • May I eat a pound of peanut butter [or should I share it]?

If you are asking "Can I use your help?" you are asking someone whether you are capable of making use of help from them. You are not asking them whether they are capable of helping you.

The answer would be "I don't know; can you use my help?" to which your response would be "Yes, I think I could."

In this situation, neither "Can I...?" nor "May I...?" are appropriate, even though both those questions are entirely grammatical, as shown in my first two examples. You're not asking about your ability to use help (you know you can, if it's offered), nor are you asking permission to use help (no-one can give you that permission but you yourself).

If you would like to ask for help, then either simply ask that, "Could you help, please?" or make a statement "I could use your help here."

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    Nonsense. "the 'permission' use of can is not in fact incorrect in standard English. The only difference between the two verbs is that one is more polite than the other." en.oxforddictionaries.com/usage/can-or-may – James Random Aug 14 '18 at 13:59
  • Even if can is asking for permission, I demonstrate here that asking permission is inappropriate, so that sense of can must still be wrong. – Andrew Leach Aug 14 '18 at 14:00
  • Maybe it would have been better to focus on that point (which is a good one) rather than distracting from it with the "annoying teacher" thing. :) – James Random Aug 14 '18 at 14:02

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