Who could help feeling sorry for her?

SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
Ashenden thought of her sitting there hour after hour with that hideous fear gnawing at her heart. Who could help feeling sorry for her?
(W.S. Maugham; The Traitor)

Is this used only in questions?

Can I say, for example, something along these lines:
"She was so distraught at the news that she spent almost all her time sitting there, weeping herself to sleep. But I, and you might think me being rather heartless, could help feeling sorry for her."

Thanks.
 
  • modulus

    Senior Member
    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
    Ashenden thought of her sitting there hour after hour with that hideous fear gnawing at her heart. Who could help feeling sorry for her?
    (W.S. Maugham; The Traitor)

    Is this used only in questions?

    Can I say, for example, something along these lines:
    "She was so distraught at the news that she spent almost all her time sitting there, weeping herself to sleep. But I, and you might think me being rather heartless, couldn't help feeling sorry for her."

    Thanks.
    You need that not there. In the original text, that who means "is there anyone who could ..."
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you, modulus.

    But that not would change the meaning completely.
    But if I have understood you right I'm not to say 'could help' in such cases, so I will refrain from doing so.
     

    modulus

    Senior Member
    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
    Yes, it does change the meaning completely. But I thought you wanted to convey the same meaning as the original text. Didn't you?

    Added: I see what you mean. I just assumed you were trying to do that.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Suppose someone asks in conversation, 'Who could help feeling sorry for Susie?'
    You could reply, 'I can help feeling sorry for her. [This means: 'I do not feel sorry for her at all.] She's a fraud, trying to win your sympathy with that sob story'.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Could help' is one of these idioms* that isn't used in positive statements. (wandle has produced an unusual example that echoes a previous question use - without this context, it couldn't be used that way.) It's used in questions, negatives, and hypotheticals:

    Could you help it?
    I couldn't help it.
    I wouldn't do it if I could help it.

    * In this idiomatic meaning "could refrain", of course. Where 'help' has its literal meaning, its use is normal.
     
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