The construction <i>cannot help -ing</i> and its rivals in Modern English

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This paper describes the history and present status of a family of constructions containing two older (obsolescent and recessive) members, <i>cannot choose but</i> + bare infinitive and <i>cannot but</i> + bare infinitive, and two younger ones, <i>cannot help -ing</i> and <i>cannot help but</i> + bare infinitive. It is shown that <i>cannot help but</i> + bare infinitive constitutes an American-led innovation and that even today the type is distinctly more common and versatile in American than British English. In addition, the paper explores some major distributional constraints distinguishing between <i>cannot help -ing</i> and the three <i>but</i>-types. These involve differences between individual text types, the lexical diversity of the non-finite verb, and certain non-basic, especially Low Transitivity structures.


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