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Thread: Shall I?

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    #1

    Shall I?

    Would it sound strange (or maybe wrong) if a salesperson, instead of asking me "May I help you?", asked "Shall I help you?" In what context can I use "Shall I help you?"

  2. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Shall I?

    It would sound strange in the context you mention. If someone is doing something and you think they might need assistance, you could say 'Shall I help you?'.
    “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

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    #3

    Re: Shall I?

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    It would sound strange in the context you mention. If someone is doing something and you think they might need assistance, you could say 'Shall I help you?'.
    That's the point. At a store, a salesperson offers help because they think I might need assistance. This is how I feel.

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    #4

    Re: Shall I?

    It would never be natural in American English to say "Shall I help you?"
    I am not a teacher.

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    #5

    Re: Shall I?

    It certainly wouldn't be natural for a shop assistant to say it in the UK either. It would be natural for someone in a casual situation, who sees someone else struggling with something, and who is offering to help. (That's not the same kind of help/assistance that's on offer in a shop.)

    John (struggling to hang wallpaper): Aaarrrgh! This is driving me mad. It's impossible to do it on your own.
    Paul (sighing and trying not to laugh): Oh. Are you having trouble with it. Shall I help you?
    John: No. You just carry on sitting there, reading the paper and letting me do all the work.
    Paul: Really?
    John: Of course not! Get up and help me, you idiot!
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #6

    Re: Shall I?

    Quote Originally Posted by beachboy View Post
    Would it sound strange (or maybe wrong) if a salesperson, instead of asking me "May I help you?", asked "Shall I help you?" In what context can I use "Shall I help you?"
    Yes, it would. They both express deontic modality, but there's a difference.

    "May I help you"? means that I'm asking for permission, rather formally, to help you. It would typically draw a response like "Yes, you may", or just "Yes". A less formal approach would be with "can": "Can I help you"?

    But "Shall I help you"? is a direction question. It's direction-seeking in that I'm effectively asking you to tell me whether to help you or not. The typical response is an imperative like "Yes, please do". This is not what a salesperson means when they offer to help a customer.

  7. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    #7

    Re: Shall I?

    Quote Originally Posted by beachboy View Post
    That's the point. At a store, a salesperson offers help because they think I might need assistance. This is how I feel.
    It would only work for me if they were offering to do something outside their normal activity, like helping me with my bags.

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