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I'm not sure whether I can use these phrases interchangeably or not. One example is:

Gas prices are getting higher and higher, but I have to fill up my car anyway, because I have to drive to work.

Another example:

I got a job offer, but it was canceled, so I have to start job-hunting again.

In these cases, which is the most appropriate sentence to append to those examples?

(a) "I have no choice" or
(b) "It cannot be helped" or
(c) "I cannot help it"

Is there is any difference in the usage between them, and, if so, could you explain it, please?

  • @tchrist Thank you for the further editing. I just found out. – tennis girl Mar 18 '15 at 11:19
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Use I have no choice to describe those situations. The phrase I have no choice means that you are in a difficult situation, but there is no practical alternative or option to do anything else, even if what you're doing isn't appealing.

On the other hand, I can't help it is something that we typically use to describe our own behavior or actions. For example:

Beth: Stop coughing like that!
Seth: I can't help it; I have something caught in my throat.

The third phrase, it cannot be helped, is more impersonal, and is generally more likely to be used when describing a situation that doesn't involve a person's actions or choices, but simply describes the way things are:

The fact that some English words are tricky to spell cannot be helped.

  • @J.R. Thank you for the clear explanation. It's very helpful. – tennis girl May 10 '13 at 1:04
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"(a) I have no choice" is the best in both cases. It refers to a personal act that is voluntary but chosen, usually reluctantly, in the face of certain restrictions.

"(b) It cannot be helped" refers to an act that is impersonal -- perhaps performed by another or a group -- as J.R. described, associated with some undesirable outcome, but still performed. Consider a politician during a war, "Yes the bombing will kill civilians, but it is necessary in order to hit the factories. It cannot be helped."

"(c ) I can't help it." This refers to an (allegedly) involuntary personal action. "I know I spit when I talk, but I make a lot of saliva. I can't help it!"

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