Several people I know use sentences of the form:

Can you help me [do something]?

to mean what I would phrase as "can you [do something] for me?", i.e. they request that I do the entirety of the work on their behalf, while in my understanding "to help" means that they would do the work while I'd provide some assistance or advice.

For instance they'd say

Can you help me open this bottle?
Can you help me buy him a gift?

when I would say

Can you open this bottle for me?
Can you buy him a gift on my behalf?

Is theirs an accepted usage of the verb "to help"?

I found no such indication on online dictionaries. I used to correct them but I've discussed with several people to notice they all use "to help" in that sense. Most of them lived in Vietnam so it may be a regional peculiarity.

  • “help me do something” is more about assistance (regardless of who does the action). “do something for me” is where you are doing something for someone else.
    – user3169
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 18:50
  • @user3169 Yep, that's how I understand it. My question is, can the former construction ever be used in the latter sense?
    – tendays
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 20:55
  • Then I think you need context to understand who takes the action. For example, if it is understood one person does not have necessary skill to do something, then even if you say "Can you help me (do something)?" it will have the same meaning as "Can you (do something) for me?
    – user3169
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 21:14
  • 1
    The former construction can also be used in the latter sense when the task can't be performed by more than one person. "Opening" the bottle refers to loosening the lid, and once it's loosened (almost always by one person) there's no need for more help. Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


I know it must sound strange, but this form of asking is a way of being polite. English speakers don't like to be direct when asking for something. It's the same as... "Do you mind...?" "Do you mind closing the window for me?" ...really means..."Please close the window." It's similar with "Can you help me..."

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