General Writing and Grammar Help/"help" or "help to"?

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Question
Hello Ted,

could you please explain to me which form is correct:
1) this will help understand
2) this will help to understand

I had studied that the first form should be right, but I often find the second one in some books and articles.
Here's one:

"learning a new language helps to keep memories sharp"
http://www.howlifeworks.com/Article.aspx?Cat_URL=lifestyle&AG_URL=How_You_Can_Le

Here's another one:
"it does not help to characterize the essence of law";
this is the context:
"This condition is [...] the least important of the conditions. It is not disputed by natural lawyers. And it does not help to characterize the essence of law as a kind of human institution. It distinguishes between [...]" (J.Raz, The Authority of Law, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983, p.43).

Should this be read as if the subject of "it does not help" were "this condition" - then, I think, the phrase with "help" would be "help to characterize" - or should it rather be read as if the subject were the whole phrase "to characterize the essence...", then "to characterize the essence", which "does not help"?

Can you please help me (to?) understand?
Thank you!

Answer
Dear Paolin:

could you please explain to me which form is correct:
1) this will help understand
2) this will help to understand

***** Here is the BASIC problem:  There is nothing or no one in the sentence who can do the "understanding."  Whether you use "to" or omit "to" is not important.  Even if the word "to" is omitted, it is understood to be there, because it is the first part of the infinitive,
to understand.  In English, there is a common practice to omit the "to" part of the infinitive.  Thinking that "to" is there, when it is not actually written, is something that our minds do.  In other words, it is natural or is common usage.

EXAMPLES:  "This will help ME understand" has the same meaning as "This will help ME TO understand."   

I had studied that the first form should be right, but I often find the second
one in some books and articles.
Here's one:

"learning a new language helps to keep memories sharp"
http://www.howlifeworks.com/Article.aspx?Cat_URL=lifestyle&AG_URL=How_You_Can_Le

***** In the above example, the sentence can be directed to one person or, as a general statement, to all people.  In the sentence, "learning" is the subject; the word is a gerund. Gerunds are VERBALS, not VERBS.  They are used as if they were nouns.  The OBJECT of the gerund LEARNING is LANGUAGE.  "A" and "new" modify the word language.  The verb of the sentence is "helps."  Then, you ask yourself the question "learns WHAT?"  The answer to that question is the direct object of the verb "helps."  In the case of this sentence, the direct object is an infinitive and its corresponding phrase:  TO KEEP + memories [object of the infinitive] and sharp [an adjective that describes "memories."

*** Now, the sentence, as it is written makes sense.  However, if you want to name the person or persons to whom the sentence is directed, you must have an INDIRECT OBJECT, such as "me" or "us" or "students."

The basic structure of the sentence is this:

Subject [and its modifiers] + Verb + Indirect object [should you choose to use one] + Direct object [and its modifiers].

Here's another one:
"it does not help to characterize the essence of law";
this is the context:
"This condition is [...] the least important of the conditions. It is not
disputed by natural lawyers. And it does not help to characterize the essence of
law as a kind of human institution. It distinguishes between [...]" (J.Raz, The
Authority of Law, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983, p.43).

*** The description I gave for the first sentence also applies to your second example.  
You can insert an indirect object, such as "us," to complete the thought:  It does not help US to characterize the essence of law.

Should this be read as if the subject of "it does not help" were "this
condition" - then, I think, the phrase with "help" would be "help to
characterize" - or should it rather be read as if the subject were the whole
phrase "to characterize the essence...", then "to characterize the essence", which "does not help"?

*** Yes. You can replace the very weak pronoun "it" with a strong noun.  This condition does not help to characterize the essence of law as a kind of human institution.

*** I do not know what "this condition" is, since the name of it appeared before the text that you quoted.  However, every time that "it" is used, the pronoun must have an antecedent -- the word to which "it" refers.  Unfortunately, J. Raz has used such a weak pronoun as the subject of several sentences.  There are three sentences with "it" as the subject.  All three refer to "this condition."

*** You have two separate problems.  In the first example, you need to insert [if only in your mind] the indirect object that receives the action of understanding.  In the second example, Mr. Raz has not presented his ideas very well.  All of his "its" refer to the one word, "condition."

Paolin, I hope I have understood your question and have helped a little by my explanation.  If I have misunderstood, please send me a follow-up question.

Ted Nesbitt  

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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