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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 want a 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?

  • 7
    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
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    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
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    "Wanna" isn't very good English. – Andrew Grimm Dec 30 '11 at 6:33
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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:

お手伝いさせていただきます

(with countless variants:)

お手伝いさせていただけますか

お手伝いさせていただきましょうか

手伝わせていただけますか

etc.

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 focusing 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).

  • 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
  • 手伝ってあげよう ("let me help!") rather than (the otherwise perfectly correct): 手伝って欲しい? ->  question の形でも、「手伝おうか?」なら、よく使われます。 – Chocolate Sep 2 '16 at 4:33
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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 an 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?
    "ちょっと待って、手伝ってあげますよ。" with an inviting gaze before taking any action.
    "大丈夫ですか?手伝ってあげましょうか?"

  • It's me who needs some help. I want a help to make cookies.
    "お菓子作りたいんだけど…手伝ってくれる?"

  • Help with house things (housework): cleaning, ironing, .. Son, please help me cleaning the dishes.
    "○君、お母さんは忙しいから、皿洗いをしなさい。"

  • Thanks for your help.
    有難うございました。大変助かりました。すみません。

  • I'm happy that I could help you somehow.
    いいえ、いいえ、当然ですよ。

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    +1 for お母さんが忙しいから. :-D – deceze Jun 24 '11 at 5:56
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Here is what I can think of now.

for store worker

何かお探しですか?

math,

数学に関して困った事あったら言ってくださいね

to help carrying heavy stuff

お荷物お持ちいたしましょうか?

I wanna help to make cookies.

クッキー作るとき手伝ってもいい?

Son, please help me cleaning the dishes.

お皿洗ってくれる?

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

  • クッキー作るとき手伝ってもいい? -> 「When it's me who needs some help.」の場合だそうですよ。I wanna help~ って書いてあったから、わかりにくかったですよね! – Chocolate Sep 2 '16 at 5:03
  • 作り方学びたいとかの理由で’私に手伝わせて!’という意味で書いてたんですが、なんか分かりづらかったですかね。確かにI wannaはくだけた言い方ですが、When it's me ... は使ったことなかったのでなんとも言えません。 – YOU Sep 2 '16 at 10:29
  • いえ、「YOUさんの回答が分かりづらい」という意味ではなく、質問者の "I wanna help to make cookies." という書き方が分かりづらかったという意味です。今回は、「自分が『手伝ってほしい』側の場合。『クッキーを作るのを手伝って欲しいんですが。』」という意味の質問でしたから、質問者は "When it's me who needs some help. 'I want a help to make cookies.'" と書けば分かりやすかったのに、と思いました。(昨日、編集しましたが。) それで、YOUさんの書かれた「クッキー作るとき手伝ってもいい?」は、"I want to help~" の方の意味ですが、質問者は 「クッキー作るの、手伝って。/ 手伝ってちょうだい。/ 手伝ってくれる?」(I want some help~) の方を聞いていたようです。(Axioplaseさんの回答を見るとわかると思います。) – Chocolate Sep 3 '16 at 0:14
  • 古い質問だったので読んでなくてすみません。I wanna help とI want a helpは意味変わっちゃったので私の回答は古くなりましたね。 – YOU Sep 3 '16 at 9:25
  • Well... I just meant to say, "By 'I wanna help to make cookies', OP meant 'I want a help to make cookies', not 'I want to help to make cookies.'" Several paper and online dictionaries say that wanna can mean want to and also want a. Here, OP used it as the latter meaning. – Chocolate Sep 4 '16 at 0:16

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