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Source: JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford (2008)

Example:

My goal here is to help you to learn to think in JavaScript. I will show you the components of the language and start you on the process of discovering the ways those components can be put together.

Although it is usually the case that you mostly hear people say something like "this will help you become a better person", is there any particular reason as to why he chose not to leave out the to and say help you to learn instead? If you've got something interesting to say, could you please elaborate on it as well? I would very much like to receive some coherent explanation and get this thing finally straight.

The only time I know of, though, that you would use the to is when you say it like this:

It helps a lot to think of the rather difficult concept of classes used in modern software development as mere blueprints that architects and builders use to build houses.

In life, it really helps to know your times tables by heart because not all the time do you have a calculator on you.

Because the aspect of the verb "help" is a little bit different here. But in all other cases, help do or help you do something is by far more common.

  • 1
    Great question! I'm not sure! I certainly prefer "help you learn to think in JavaScript" in this case because it is smoother, but I've definitely heard "help you to learn to think" before. I can't quite put my finger on the differences. – Alex K Dec 16 '15 at 18:41
  • I wonder if there is any real difference. Maybe the speaker is free to choose either. – Damkerng T. Dec 16 '15 at 18:43
  • I want to say it's an active vs passive distinction. Passive seems to allow to, active doesn't, but I can't nail down exactly which thing has to be passive or active... It could be the task, it could be the helper, or I could be missing it entirely. – modulusshift Dec 16 '15 at 19:30
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    I'm not using "passive" in a grammatical sense. I mean that helping you through an article I've written is passive, as compared to walking you through it myself is active. A tool is passive, but a conscious helper is active. – modulusshift Dec 16 '15 at 19:40
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    Or possibly it's in the action itself, because that doesn't seem to work. A teacher can help you to learn a language. But learning is a somewhat passive thing compared to running. But then tennis shoes can help you to run faster. Maybe the teacher is grammatically a passive tool? Maybe helpers for passive actions are automatically passive? I think there's something here, but I'll leave it at this. – modulusshift Dec 16 '15 at 19:41
6

Well, after doing a lot of digging around, it looks like there really isn't a specific rule for this because there is little to no difference between the two. I think that the comments on your question confirm this...plenty of native speakers can't seem to find a distinction between the two.

So it looks like the "to" is completely optional. What is strange about this is that there doesn't seem to be much of a connotative difference between the two versions at all. Usually when something is optional, the different versions have some sort of connotative difference - possibly more formal or more colloquial. It doesn't seem like that is the case here to any extreme degree.

Both sentences below have the same meaning:

My goal here is to help you to learn to think in JavaScript.

and

My goal here is to help you learn to think in JavaScript.

I will say that I personally prefer the second option without the extra "to." I think this may be because the to-infinitive sounds slightly more formal, and in this case, since the writing style and topic seem on the informal side to me, leaving the "to" out (using the "bare infinitive") makes more sense to me.

BBC World Service's page on learning English confirms this:

The difference is one of form only. There is no difference in meaning. to-infinitive or bare infinitive

Help is a verb that can be used with or without to and with or without an object before the infinitive. When we use it without an infinitive it sometimes sounds more informal. Compare the following:

  • Could you help me to look for my car keys? I can't find them anywhere.

  • Could you help me look for my car keys? I can't find them anywhere.

  • Would you like to help to cook dinner tonight? It's late and I'm feeling tired.

  • Would you like to help cook dinner tonight? It's late and I'm feeling tired.

Here are a number of links that you can check out for more info on this (that appear to confirm what I've written above).

2

Although including or excluding to will still result in the same meaning, it may not have the same feeling behind it.

I very much want you to understand what this phrasing really means, since understanding it will help you a great deal.

The use of to can be used to create or indicate an emphasis of determined and/or aspirational effort which typically has a noble aim. It also has a loftier ring to it :

To dream the impossible dream...
To boldly go where no man has gone before... (split infinitive aside)
Our goal is to defeat the enemy
To be or not to be...

Without using to, the feeling has less intensity, along the lines of a statement of fact :

Do or do not, there is no try.

The feeling of imperative can also be created without using to :

Be all that you can be.
The enemy of democracy must be defeated

Encourages the listener to join the US Army to better themselves.

In the first example, to understand is the aspirational part.

1

help somebody (to) do something

is fine. You can put or omit the preposition 'to'. It's okay.

OALD says -

help somebody (to) do something: The college’s aim is to help students (to) achieve their aspirations.

his charity aims to help people (to) help themselves.

It clarifies...

In verb patterns with a 'to infinitive', the ‘to’ is often left out, especially in informal or spoken English.

0

The normal construction is to help somebody to do something. Gradually to help is constructed with bare infinitive. "to help" begins to show a feature of modal verbs. http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/help_1?q=help

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The Bare Infinitive is used after a number of "special" English verbs, as well as the adverb "why."

It'll make them learn. (As opposed to "It'll force them to learn).

I'd have them learn this first.

They can learn.

They will learn.

They should learn.

They had better learn.

Why learn it when it's already been proven wrong?

Let them learn.

It'll help them learn.

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