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In English, the word "help" can be used for any of these cases to ask somebody for help or to give a help to someone:

  • In a store, when a clerk (store worker) says:

    Can I help you, sir?

  • With friends, when you see that your friend needs some help on math:

    Do you want a help with math?

  • When someone is carrying heavy things:

    Shall I help you?

  • When it's me who needs some help.

    I wanna help to make cookies.

  • Help with household things (housework) such as cleaning, ironing:

    Son, please help me cleaning the dishes.

  • To thank:

    Thanks for your help.
    I'm happy that i could help you somehow.

In what situations are the Japanese expressions "手伝う", "手を貸す", and "助ける" (or in the forms "手伝いましょうか?", "手伝ってくれ?", "手を貸して。", "助けてくれ。", :教えてあげる。", "教えよっか?") used?

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Could you edit your question to clarify what you are asking? Do you want to know how to ask for help, or how to offer help, or how to thank someone for their help? This question covers a lot of ground, and it would be easier to answer if you condensed it down to a core question (especially if it's based on a concrete problem that you're facing). –  Amanda S Jun 24 '11 at 3:43
oh. thats true. i should have done a specific topic, to be easier for someone to answer. sorry. i was just little excited to know everything about "help" in japanese. I'm always confused which expression i can use, while in english i can use "help" for every situation. maybe i will make another topic, specifying one of my problems (about "help"). thanks amanda~ –  daniel tomio Jun 24 '11 at 4:16
as @Amanda said, it's generally better to ask focussed question here. You shouldn't worry too much about getting a broader answer that covers many cases and examples: from experience, it will always be the case (e.g.: even if you ask for the way to say this in one specific context, many people will also give you other contexts anyway). –  Dave Jun 24 '11 at 5:28
I'd like to add this one: "Is there anything I can help you with?" usually ends with the Japanese people dismissing it out of courtesy. How can I get them to not do that? –  Kdansky Jun 24 '11 at 14:57
"Wanna" isn't very good English. –  Andrew Grimm Dec 30 '11 at 6:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I fully agree, this is much harder to translate (well) than one would expect.

There are hundreds of nuances and scenarios covered by the English "can I help you", and you list a lot of them... So I'll focus on three very typical broad categories (I'm sure people will give you more):

Strangers: Typically, offering your help finding directions to a tourist who looks lost.

Rather than a direct "Can I help you?", any variations on "are you OK?" (implying that you are ready to help) is probably the best way to go. Depending on context, anything from a 大丈夫ですか? to 道に迷っているんですか。

Close friends and family: Where an equivalent of the informal "Need a hand?" would be appropriate. Then 手伝う can come handy... From a purely cultural standpoint, I still would try to keep it sounding more like an offer than a question. E.g. 手伝ってあげよう ("let me help!") rather than (the otherwise perfectly correct): 手伝って欲しい? ("do you want me to help?").

Less close friends, subordinates or same-level colleagues would be variations of the above (with appropriate use of polite verbal forms).

Your boss (or any person high-enough above you): is a different matter. There are many sonkeigo-infused expressions to offer help. They all have in common that you must make it sound like you are asking for a favour, not doing them a favour.

One of my personal favourite sonkeigo expression for that is:


(with countless variants:)





Which literally means you are begging your boss to do you the favour of accepting your help.

Edit: as for ways to thank somebody for their help. It is once again down to context. Most basic (and literal) way would be: 手伝ってくれてありがとうございました but if it was a big favour/help, you can't go wrong by focussing on "the trouble you've caused" (and apologising for it), in which case you'd use: 迷惑をかけて申し訳無い (for bigger favours) or a simple すみません (which means both "sorry" and "thank you" in that context).

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oh. i thought my question was soo long for someone to answer it. haha. but u did, and did it perfectly. really thanks. I didnt solve all of my problems with "help", but it was really great to read what u wrote. its clearer. ^^ thnks –  daniel tomio Jun 24 '11 at 4:20

Use the context, Luke!

  • In a store, when a clerk (store worker) says : Can I help you, sir?
    "いらっしゃいませ!" with a inquiring gaze at the customer

  • With friends, when you see that your friend needs some help on math: Do you want a help with math?   "大丈夫?助けてあげようか?"、"大丈夫?手伝ってあげようか?" (I allow "助ける" here, for math can put people in trouble :P)

  • Someone is carrying heavy things: Shall I help you?
    "ちゃっと待って、手伝ってあげますよ。" with an inviting gaze before taking any action.

  • Its me who needs some help. I wanna help to make cookies.

  • Help with house things (housework): cleaning, ironing, .. Son, please help me cleaning the dishes.

  • Thanks for your help.

  • I'm happy that I could help you somehow.

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+1 for お母さんが忙しいから. :-D –  deceze Jun 24 '11 at 5:56

Here is what I can think of now.

for store worker




to help carrying heavy stuff


I wanna help to make cookies.


Son, please help me cleaning the dishes.


thanks for your help.

手伝ってくれてありがとうね / 助かった

It's my pleasure

どういたしまして / よかった (for 助かった) よかった

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