He just has to show off

dec-sev

Senior Member
Russian
Hello.
There is a discussion on the Russian forum dedicated to a Russian expression that can roughly be translated into English as “showing off” or “for show, to make a splash”. One example given in that thread runs:
"a guy, who actually can't afford BMW M5, buys a pre-owned BMW 520 and then attaches M-style spoilers and the M5 label to it, pretending that he drives much more expensive car.
Generally speaking, any annoying demonstration of richness, higher social rank, etc. can be called "понты".
Everything is clear with the meaning. My question is about use of the English phrase, or better so say, describing a person who likes showing off, can’t do without it, showing off is part of his life. Can I say: “He can’t help but showing off” or “he can’t do without showing off”? The problem is that I’ve heard “can’t help but…” used in the past tense and referred to an event happened just once. For example: “He couldn’t help but laughing”. I’m not sure if it’s possible to use “can’t help but…” describing a person’s passions for something. And another question. One variant proposed was “He just has to show off" which I’m not sure to be relevant in this situation. What do you think?
 
  • b1947420

    Senior Member
    British English
    "can’t do without it, showing off is part of his life"

    "He can’t help but showing off"

    These expressions above and the others in your text are quite acceptable to describe your point.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Actually, "He can't help but showing off" is incorrect. It's "He can't help but show off" or "He couldn't help but laugh".

    "He just has to show off" is perfectly idiomatic and conveys the proper sense.

    Thanks for the great context, by the way.:)
     

    dec-sev

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "He just has to show off" is perfectly idiomatic and conveys the proper sense.
    I thought that “have to” expressed a sort of obligation:
    Children have to wear school uniform at that school. (a rule).
    Is it “just” that gives the phrase another sense?

    Or another example. A man is a great fun of football and staunch supporter of Manchester United. He forgets about everything when his favorite team plays. Can I say: “He just has to watch MU matches”?
     
    Last edited:

    dec-sev

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Another situation. A person is a sports journalist, he writes about football and attending football matches is part of his job. So, he has to watch football. Back to the person fond of football. He also has to watch football. So, what we have is that without more context it’s impossible to differentiate between “has to…” meaning duty and “has to…” meaning passion for something. Correct?
     

    fisherofsouls

    Member
    English/UK
    You could also say "He is a natural show-off" though I would generally take this to mean that he was keen to demonstrate his abilities, whatever they may be.

    To the example given, I would probably say "he can't help being flash", as to be "flash" is (colloquially) to flaunt wealth and status.

    Nick
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Another situation. A person is a sports journalist, he writes about football and attending football matches is part of his job. So, he has to watch football. Back to the person fond of football. He also has to watch football. So, what we have is that without more context it’s impossible to differentiate between “has to…” meaning duty and “has to…” meaning passion for something. Correct?
    A large part of how these sentences are perceived is in the tone of voice. In your example of the guy who tries to be a bigshot by flashing his possessions, when we say "He just has to show off", we would invariably say it with a sarcastic tone of voice (and probably a roll of the eyes).

    In your example of the guy who has to watch football as part of his job, we would not normally say "He just has to watch football". We would use "just" in the case of the guy who watches because he's a passionate fan.
     

    ABBA Stanza

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    Hi dec-sev, :)

    I thought that “have to” expressed a sort of obligation:
    Children have to wear school uniform at that school. (a rule).
    Yes, that's correct, but don't forget that it's possible for someone to feel like he or she is under a personal obligation to act this way. For example, they may feel like they are under a perpetual obligation to "live up to their image", even if there is nobody out there who is forcing them to do so.

    Is it “just” that gives the phrase another sense?
    Yes, that helps, but (as Dimcl has already said) a lot of it also has to do with the intonation, especially on the word "has". Without the "just", and with a dead flat intonation, it would indeed sound like it was his duty to show off (which in turn sounds weird, because it's an unlikely sort of duty :)).

    Other than that, I can't really add to what the other posters have already said here, other to say that (in my opinion) "he just has to show off" is indeed interchangeable with "he just can't do without showing off". Or, said another way, if there is a difference, it must be so subtle that most people would probably miss it!

    Hope that helps.

    All the best,
    Abba
     

    dec-sev

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks a lot!!!
    Yes, that's correct, but don't forget that it's possible for someone to feel like he or she is under a personal obligation to act this way. For example, they may feel like they are under a perpetual obligation to "live up to their image", even if there is nobody out there who is forcing them to do so.
    That example about the uniform at school is from my grammar book. It says that "must" to be used to express "personal obligation" or so to say "inner necessity":
    I'm having a test tomorrow, so I must study.
    "Have to..." according to the book is used when something "formally" obliges you. For example a rule, o regulations. Or are "have to" and "must" interchangagle in this sense?
     

    ABBA Stanza

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    That example about the uniform at school is from my grammar book. It says that "must" to be used to express "personal obligation" or so to say "inner necessity":
    Well, it's not a hard and fast rule anyway, but I think your grammar book is seeing it from a first-person perspective, whereas we're dealing with a third-person perspective here. So "has to" (as in "he just has to show off") is OK in this case, because it stresses that the personal obligation to show off that the other person feels subjected to is not directly or indirectly originating from the speaker.

    Hope that makes sense to you! :)

    Cheers,
    Abba
     
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