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A map helps us to know where we are.

A map helps us know where we are.

what do these sentences mean ?

  • ...exactly the same thing. – SF. Aug 4 '14 at 12:38
  • Are you interested only in the use of "help" or other verbs, too? What is confusing you exactly? These two sentences mean the same thing. – fluffy Aug 4 '14 at 12:41
  • @MaulikV: That is a ridiculous, unfounded statement. – CocoPop Aug 4 '14 at 13:00
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    @MaulikV: and you declared that "a man helps us know where we are" is correct, which implies the other variant is incorrect. Besides that, you posited that "the verb "help" generally takes no infinitive," when in fact it ALWAYS takes an infinitive, however the inclusion of "to" is optional. What we see otherwise is an infinitive, with the "to" omitted. – CocoPop Aug 4 '14 at 13:05
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A few months ago, I searched 'help me make' and 'help me to make' on Google Ngrams and found that the version with 'to' was more common than the version without until the early 20th century. The two were equally common for about 20 years, then later the version with 'to' surged in use from 1970. (I don't know why. In 1970, there was a pop song titled 'Help me make it through the night', but I can't imagine that it had that much of an effect on English.)

Searching now for various other examples of 'help/s us (to) V' show roughly the same pattern - the version without 'to' overtook the version with it sometime in the middle of the 20th century. BUT 'helps us to know' was still more common in 2000, with 'helps us know' gaining slowly from 1950 and gaining fast from 1980. (It might have overtaken 'helps us to know' by now.)

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Both of these sentences are correct and basically mean the same thing: a map allows us to pinpoint our location - inform us of where we are by showing our location. The omission of "to" is optional and characteristic of the spoken, informal register.

In my personal interpretation, in some cases, the form without "to" implies helping with a task physically, directly, hands-on, as opposed to working behind the scenes to make the task easier.

The US government is helping me find my son. (=they have actually deployed people to help in the search)

The US government is helping me to find my son. (=they are leveraging their international contacts, consulting specialists, etc. to help the search along).

This nuance may be my own - I'd be curious to know if other natives agree.

To summarize my answer, you can use both forms with no change in meaning.

  • Yes, help is a rather exceptional verb that can take both bare infinitival and to-infinitival complements. I can't personally detect any difference in meaning between the two, but +1 anyway for your first paragraph and last sentence. – snailcar Aug 5 '14 at 8:05

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