I was wondering the structure of “could not help but” and the difference between “could not help” in this statement:

“If they wanted to justify their actions, they put forward such boring reasons that they could not help but be true.”

  • the reasons are what are "being true", not the speaker. And since reasons don't make decisions, saying they "couldn't help" doing something is not idiomatic at all
    – Esther
    Jun 2, 2022 at 14:36
  • What do you expect/want this sentence to mean? right now it makes minimal sense.
    – Esther
    Jun 2, 2022 at 14:37
  • Thank you so much for your response, but I want the structure of it; in the case that has “but” and in the other one that has not “but” Jun 2, 2022 at 16:30
  • what do you want the sentence to mean? right now it is just words with no meaning
    – Esther
    Jun 2, 2022 at 16:31
  • It’s the statement of the book, it’s not mine Jun 2, 2022 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


"Could not help" means "Was unable to assist".

"Could not help but" is an idiom that means "Was unable to do anything else except for."

The sentence you quoted means that the reasons "they" were giving were so boring that there was no way they could possibly be false. Using this particular idiom isn't common for non-animate beings, because they can't really do anything on their own, but it's a figure of speech that is used here to "personify" the reasons a bit.

You can not remove the "but" in this sentence, because then you would lose the idiom altogether, and it would literally mean "could not assist." Since "help" in that context requires an object, it would make no sense and not be grammatically correct. (An implied object is ok, like in "I couldn't help" in the context about talking about some event that needs help, but there isn't anything that clearly needs help here, so that doesn't work).

  • Thank you so much for your succinct explanation Jun 2, 2022 at 17:44

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