I can't {help, fail} but {to} agree with you.

russian80

Senior Member
Russian
Who is likely to use which when:

I can't fail but to agree with you.
I can't help but to agree with you.
I can't fail but agree with you.
I can't help but agree with you.
I can't but agree with you.
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    We don't provide contexts. We ask you to provide a context and tell us what you want to say.
    Also, tell us which sentence you think may be the best way to say this.

    Then we can discuss which, if any, of these sentences will work in that context.
     

    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Ok, let the previous context be the following statement: "There is no way John is going to pass that exam!"
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Of the sentences you suggest, this is the only one I would use:

    I can't but agree with you.
    However, it sounds overly formal to me.
    In real life, I am more likely to say:

    I can't help agreeing with you.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I can't help but agree with you. - I think this sounds normal in BE.

    I cannot but agree with you
    - is correct, but very formal. I wouldn't expect to see the contraction "can't" in such a formal phrase.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The versions with "fail" are incorrect. We don't use "fail to" in that way.

    She never fails to agree with me.
    I'm going ahead with your plan; it cannot fail to work.
     

    DonnyB

    Member Emeritus
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Right. Shall we tell Lis48 and Wandering JJ that they were terribly wrong or were possibly drunk?
    can't but to agree on that
    Well, they appear to have been translating something from Spanish, and from what I can make out, the discussion centres around whether the translation was a correct idiomatic one or not. I don't speak Spanish so I can't really comment.

    But what we're all telling you here is that in the context you've given us (i.e a response to the statement "There is no way John is going to pass that exam!") a native speaker would not use the construction "fail to" in the way you were originally proposing (post #1).
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Cannot/could not fail to notice seems to be used in some varieties of English. There are several examples in Google Scholar. The phrase cannot be dismissed.

    Here is one example (from the Now Corpus):
    "You’re [sic] can’t fail but notice the amount of microbreweries about town and if I had to mention one, I’d say a visit to the Upslope Craft Brewery is both educational and, well you know..."
    (Colorado: Rocky mountain high - Independent.ie)

    Another quote:
    "... he still gets caught up in forces that he can't fail but notice are very similar to those that dispossessed his family and tribe two hundred years earlier."
    (Project MUSE - <i>Black Silk Handkerchief: A Hom-Astubby Mystery</i> (review))
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Perhaps "can't fail but notice" is a set phrase for some. Did you find "can't fail but" used with other verbs, e2efour?
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    "Fail to notice" sounds Ok to me-- what I don't like is the use of the verb "agree", which expresses such a thoughtful action, with "fail". One can fail to notice/spot/understand etc, I think, but not fail to agree in a normal context.

    :warning: That's a non-native speaker's view.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    There is can't fail but observe/hear/realizemake certain connections etc.
    How about "one can’t fail but know what you are having for breakfast while you are eating it, but this knowledge is lost soon afterwards, simply because there is no reason to keep hold of it." (Knowledge-How, Abilities, and Questions - Minds Online).
    I also found it used with a to infinitive.

    Several quotations I couldn't access because a request for payment was made!

    After finding various examples I am tempted to use it myself instead of I can't help noticing.

    More research is needed to establish its origin and currency.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    :idea:I think Emp has hit on something.

    She can't fail but be struck by the reasonableness of the argument.
    She can't fail to be struck by the reasonableness of the argument.
    She will undoubtedly be struck by the reasonableness of the argument.

    I can't fail but (to) agree with you.:confused:
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    I cannot fail but to agree with
    I couldn't fail to notice (;)) that this was spoken by Adrian Sanders, who ".. went to primary schools in Paignton and Torquay then Torquay Boys' Grammar School. He worked briefly in a timber yard, then in the insurance industry for seven years, and then had a short spell of unemployment before finding work in the political arena." (Wikipedia) It's fair to say, I think, that his use of English may not be the best. He's in the House, on the telly (Hello mum! :)) and is making a big effort to sound learned though.

    In russian80's context, I would just say I can only agree with you or I can't disagree with you.
     
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    russian80

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "I cannot fail but to agree with every word that the Minister has said, and I am absolutely delighted that she has said that."
    I think we have a case of purely phonetic assimilation in "but to" -> "butə", kind of a slip of the tongue.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Since there are over 1700 examples of I can't help but in the COCA corpus, I conclude that
    I can't fail but has been confused with help. Only 8 are followed by the to infinitive.
     
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