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Thread: cannot but

  1. #1
    Englishlanguage is offline Member
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    cannot but

    Can I use the phrase cannot but to mean that no other choice is possible in a specific situation?
    Examples:
    He could not but jump out of the car. (He had no other possibility. If he hadn't done it, he would probably be dead now)
    I cannot but do what he asked me. (If I don't, I'll get into trouble).

    Thank you in advance.
    Last edited by Englishlanguage; 09-Jun-2007 at 14:52.

  2. #2
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    Wink Re: cannot but

    Quote Originally Posted by Englishlanguage View Post
    Can I use the phrase cannot but to mean that no other choice is possible in a specific situation?
    Examples:
    He could not but jump out of the car. (He had no other possibility. If he hadn't done it, he would probably be dead now)
    I cannot but do what he asked me. (If I don't, I'll get into trouble).

    Thank you in advance.
    Yes, you can. The phrase you provided is formal, and in its full version looks like this cannot help but do something. Even when you leave out help, it's still formal. It gets less formal when you turn cannot into can't, and could not into couldn't.

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    Englishlanguage is offline Member
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    Re: cannot but

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    Yes, you can. The phrase you provided is formal, and in its full version looks like this cannot help but do something. Even when you leave out help, it's still formal. It gets less formal when you turn cannot into can't, and could not into couldn't.
    Thank you very much.
    Sometimes I've also heard something like I cannot help doing something. But I'm not sure about it. Is it correct?

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    Wink Re: cannot but

    Quote Originally Posted by Englishlanguage View Post
    Thank you very much.
    Sometimes I've also heard something like I cannot help doing something. But I'm not sure about it. Is it correct?
    Oh yes, it's perfectly correct! You say, I cannot/can't help (doing) something, but not cannot/can't help (to) do something.
    The phrases are so alike in their structure that one needs to be careful to use them properly!

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    Smile Re: cannot but

    Oh, I would have forgotten - the meaning of that phrase is different: to say that somebody can't stop themselves doing something:

    When I saw her in that dress, I couldn't help laughing.

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    Re: cannot but

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    Oh yes, it's perfectly correct! You say, I cannot/can't help (doing) something, but not cannot/can't help (to) do something.
    The phrases are so alike in their structure that one needs to be careful to use them properly!
    You're right. You always risk mixing them up!
    I'll try to summarize:
    I cannot help doing something
    I cannot help but do something
    I cannot but do something


    So when you use but, you should use infinitive without to (do). Whan you use help without but you should use -ing form (doing). Am I right?

  7. #7
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    Re: cannot but

    Quote Originally Posted by Englishlanguage View Post
    You're right. You always risk mixing them up!
    I'll try to summarize:
    I cannot help doing something
    I cannot help but do something
    I cannot but do something


    So when you use but, you should use infinitive without to (do). Whan you use help without but you should use -ing form (doing). Am I right?
    Yes, you're absolutely right!

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