exercise We should answer “Yes” first to the question “May/Can I help you?”, right? So I think the answer is B. Am I right?

  • In the context of asking someone why they are in some shop, "What do you buy?" is not grammatical. It should be "What do you want to buy?".
    – user3169
    Jan 13, 2019 at 2:33

1 Answer 1


B is correct. C is incorrect. However, A is an interesting case.

As an exchange, the following is actually quite common:

"Can I help you?"
"I want a pair of shoes for my son"

Syntactically, the answer given doesn't match the question, but idiomatically, "Can I help you?" is often interpreted as "How can I help you?".

That being said, for a simple multiple-choice exercise such as this one, your reasoning is correct and you should choose B. If you were actually using any of these in real conversation, though, you should be aware that "what do you want" is quite strongly associated with a tone of hostile dismissal, and another phrasing would often be better-received.

  • 1
    Given just the 3 choices as presented, the only credible one is B (A is an introductory utterance, not suitable as a reply to the preceding utterance). But What do you want? has such strong associations with "hostile dismissal" in other contexts that I'm sure the vast majority of sales assistants wouldn't use it. They'd more likely say something like What [particular style] are you looking for? Jan 12, 2019 at 17:13
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I read the question as "to which of these would "I want a pair of shoes for my son be an appropriate response" - notice the underscored space is on the first line, so the introductory utterance thing isn't really relevant. The point about the implied tone of "what do you want?", though, is a good one, and I shall edit in something to that effect.
    – Darael
    Jan 12, 2019 at 17:21
  • oic - yes, of course you're right! I'd completely "reversed" the context. Still, some good came out of my comment! :) Jan 12, 2019 at 18:00
  • (So on balance I'd say that although B is a "logically correct" answer, in the real world anyone who habitually initiated interactions with potential customers by saying What do you want? probably wouldn't earn much sales commission! :) Jan 12, 2019 at 18:03
  • If we're allowed to discuss idiomatic conversation (since you bring it up in your answer), C would also be a valid question. I would assume it would be asked by somebody who didn't speak English as their first language. But the answer would be perfectly valid for that question. (I hate all tests of this type.) Jan 12, 2019 at 18:55

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