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Currently, I'm working in an international company with many non-native speakers (so am I) but with pretty good level of English, I suppose.

I have noticed that my colleagues usually use phrase "give a hand" when asking for help or even talking about it and seems to be avoiding the strong word "help".

It looks a bit confusing to me especially after I made people laugh when I said "I will help you" in one of our conversations, don't remember exact context though...

So could you please describe the difference between them? And is there something wrong or hidden meaning with help-based phrase?

  • The answers are relevant in all cases except-intellectual help or help pertaining to intelligence. – user26375 May 31 at 12:38
  • @user26375 - Look more closely at the first example in the accepted answer: If you have any trouble with your homework, I'll be glad to lend you a hand. That shows the expression need not be used exclusively with physically demanding tasks. – J.R. Jun 14 at 20:14
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In the following extract, the first & last items are from American sources, and the middle one is from a British source.

'give somebody a hand'

The first two items support the fact that to give somebody a hand is used to mean "to help someone". The third item confirms that (especially in US usage), that may also be expressed as "to lend somebody a hand"; although less common, that usage is certainly not unknown — and would certainly be understood — in the UK.

Conversely, if one were asking for help, one might say "Would you please give me a hand with this?". The expression would certainly be "give me a hand", but the "me" might be partially 'swallowed' and not heard clearly.

If offering help, I might say "Do you want a hand with that?". It's easy to see that a non-native speaker may get confused between "give me a hand" and "Do you want a hand?".

(As an aside, the usage of give a big hand to someone (note the word "big" in the middle) to mean "give a round of applause" is also common in the UK.)

Finally, although the expression "I will help you" may be slightly non-idiomatic, I cannot think that by itself it should be so strange as to make people laugh; but it's possible that it might sound funny in the context of something said previously.

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Actually, a request for help is usually phrased: " Lend a hand". (In other words - "I only have two hands - which is currently an insufficient number - could you lend me one of yours?)

If you found yourself in the midst of an overwhelming task and requested a bystander to "give (you) a hand," you would likely be the recipient of a round of applause. (US)

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    in BrEng (and perhaps other variations), "to give someone a hand" does mean to help them, rather than applaud them. (in BrEng you'd say "give him a round of applause" for that). You would say "Give me a hand", "give him a hand", or "Let me give you a hand", etc, though, rather than just "give a hand" with no subject. "give a hand" seems like a blend between "give me a hand" and "lend a hand". – Max Williams Jul 6 '16 at 11:36
  • Company is based in Amsterdam and has a lot of native speakers from UK – klappvisor Jul 6 '16 at 11:37
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    Just to confirm the comments from @MaxWilliams, if I (as a Brit) wanted to ask someone casually to help me with a task, it would be quite natural to say, for example, "Would you please give me a hand with this?". It would be "give me a hand", but the "me" might be partially 'swallowed' and not heard clearly. – TrevorD Jul 6 '16 at 11:42
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    Following my previous comment, conversely, if I were offering help to someone else, I might say "Do you want a hand with that?". It's easy to see that a non-native speaker may get confused between "give me a hand" and "Do you want a hand?". – TrevorD Jul 6 '16 at 11:46
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    I've addressed your last point (as best I can) at the end of my answer. – TrevorD Jul 6 '16 at 12:20

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