Consider the following sentence:

The simp could not have helped but come/came running the second the girl called him.

Should I use 'come' or 'came' for this sentence? And if I should use 'come', would it be the infinitive or the past participle?

Also, could 'had come' work?

Because 'not..X.. but..Y..' feels like a pretty common structure that negates X and affirms Y. So I feel like X and Y should be of equal status. And in this case, 'could not have helped but ___', X being have helped and Y being some form of 'come' so wait, should it be 'have come' instead?

  • Do you mean 'There was nothing he could do to help, but he came anyway', or 'he couldn't help coming'? Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 13:32
  • I mean the simp being a simp could not have let go of the chance of simping by showing up for the girl.
    – Jenny
    Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 13:33
  • No: the answer is here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 14:09
  • I had to look up the meaning of simp, a completely new word to me, but I think the construction you want is could not help but come running. Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 14:37
  • The Perfect format (He couldn't have helped but laugh) is "valid", but vanishingly rare compare to Simple Past (He couldn't help but laugh). But that doesn't mean you can't use it. It's a stylistic choice (just not a common choice! :) Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


Can't help but is an idiom. It's followed by the bare infinitive of a verb.
Source: The Free Dictionary

If you need a past sense, use couldn't help but.

The simp can't help but come running the second the girl calls him.

The simp couldn't help but come running the second the girl called him.

I can't think of a need for a perfect version, but a few have used it.
Source: Corpus of Contemporary American English


Further reading: Grammarphobia—We can’t help but change

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