the act of a person or thing that helps.
a portion of food served to a person at one time: That's his third helping of ice cream.


giving aid, assistance, support, or the like.

Origin of helping

Middle English word dating back to 1175–1225; see origin at help, -ing1, -ing2
Related formshelp·ing·ly, adverbun·help·ing, adjective



verb (used with object)

to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means to; render assistance to; cooperate effectively with; aid; assist: He planned to help me with my work. Let me help you with those packages.
to save; rescue; succor: Help me, I'm falling!
to make easier or less difficult; contribute to; facilitate: The exercise of restraint is certain to help the achievement of peace.
to be useful or profitable to: Her quick mind helped her career.
to refrain from; avoid (usually preceded by can or cannot): He can't help doing it.
to relieve or break the uniformity of: Small patches of bright color can help an otherwise dull interior.
to relieve (someone) in need, sickness, pain, or distress.
to remedy, stop, or prevent: Nothing will help my headache.
to serve food to at table (usually followed by to): Help her to salad.
to serve or wait on (a customer), as in a store.

verb (used without object)

to give aid; be of service or advantage: Every little bit helps.


the act of helping; aid or assistance; relief or succor.
a person or thing that helps: She certainly is a help in an emergency.
a hired helper; employee.
a body of such helpers.
a domestic servant or a farm laborer.
means of remedying, stopping, or preventing: The thing is done, and there is no help for it now.
Older Use. helping(def 2).


(used as an exclamation to call for assistance or to attract attention.)

Verb Phrases

help out, to assist in an effort; be of aid to: Her relatives helped out when she became ill.

Origin of help

before 900; Middle English helpen, Old English helpan; cognate with German helfen
Related formshelp·a·ble, adjectiveun·der·help, nounun·help·a·ble, adjectiveun·helped, adjectivewell-helped, adjective

Synonyms for help

1. encourage, befriend; support, second, uphold, back, abet. Help, aid, assist, succor agree in the idea of furnishing another with something needed, especially when the need comes at a particular time. Help implies furnishing anything that furthers one's efforts or relieves one's wants or necessities. Aid and assist, somewhat more formal, imply especially a furthering or seconding of another's efforts. Aid implies a more active helping; assist implies less need and less help. To succor, still more formal and literary, is to give timely help and relief in difficulty or distress: Succor him in his hour of need. 3. further, promote, foster. 6. ameliorate. 7. alleviate, cure, heal. 12. support, backing.

Antonyms for help

3, 11. hinder. 7. afflict. 13. hindrance.

Usage note

21. Help but, in sentences like She's so clever you can't help but admire her, has been condemned by some as the ungrammatical version of cannot help admiring her, but the idiom is common in all kinds of speech and writing and can only be characterized as standard. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for helping

serving, dollop, ration, share, order, course, piece, meal, allowance, plateful

Examples from the Web for helping

Contemporary Examples of helping

Historical Examples of helping

  • "I think I will," said the superintendent, helping himself to a fresh slice of toast.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • Calvert and I have been helping our neighbors to get in the harvest.

    Ballads of a Bohemian

    Robert W. Service

  • What a farce it was to talk to her about helping those poor fellows!

  • I thought of helping them to get a small house somewhere and of taking a room with them.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • You needn't worry about helping yourself; I've got a dozen bottles more.'

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

British Dictionary definitions for helping



a single portion of food taken at a meal



to assist or aid (someone to do something), esp by sharing the work, cost, or burden of somethinghe helped his friend to escape; she helped him climb out of the boat
to alleviate the burden of (someone else) by giving assistance
(tr) to assist (a person) to go in a specified directionhelp the old lady up from the chair
to promote or contribute toto help the relief operations
to cause improvement in (a situation, person, etc)crying won't help
(tr; preceded by can, could, etc; usually used with a negative)
  1. to avoid or refrain fromwe can't help wondering who he is
  2. (usually foll by it)to prevent or be responsible forI can't help it if it rains
to alleviate (an illness, etc)
(tr) to serve (a customer)can I help you, madam?
(tr foll by to)
  1. to serve (someone with food, etc) (usually in the phrase help oneself)may I help you to some more vegetables?; help yourself to peas
  2. to provide (oneself with) without permissionhe's been helping himself to money out of the petty cash
cannot help but to be unable to do anything else exceptI cannot help but laugh
help a person off with to assist a person in the removal of (clothes)
help a person on with to assist a person in the putting on of (clothes)
so help me
  1. on my honour
  2. no matter whatso help me, I'll get revenge


the act of helping, or being helped, or a person or thing that helpsshe's a great help
a helping
  1. a person hired for a job; employee, esp a farm worker or domestic servant
  2. (functioning as singular)several employees collectively
a means of remedythere's no help for it


used to ask for assistance
See also help out
Derived Formshelpable, adjectivehelper, noun

Word Origin for help

Old English helpan; related to Old Norse hjalpa, Gothic hilpan, Old High German helfan
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for helping

"aid, assistance," late 13c., from present participle of help (v.). Meaning "serving food" is from 1824; that of "a portion of food" is from 1883.



Old English help (m.), helpe (f.) "assistance, succor;" see help (v.). Most Germanic languages also have the noun form, cf. Old Norse hjalp, Swedish hjälp, Old Frisian helpe, Dutch hulp, Old High German helfa, German Hilfe. Use of help as euphemism for "servant" is American English, 1640s, tied up in notions of class and race.

A domestic servant of American birth, and without negro blood in his or her veins ... is not a servant, but a 'help.' 'Help wanted,' is the common heading of advertisements in the North, when servants are required. [Chas. Mackay, "Life and Liberty in America," 1859].

Though help also meant "assistant, helper, supporter" in Middle English (c.1200).



Old English helpan (class III strong verb; past tense healp, past participle holpen) "help, support, succor; benefit, do good to; cure, amend," from Proto-Germanic *helpan (cf. Old Norse hjalpa, Old Frisian helpa, Middle Dutch and Dutch helpen, Old High German helfan, German helfen), from PIE root *kelb- "to help" (cf. Lithuanian selpiu "to support, help").

Recorded as a cry of distress from late 14c. Sense of "serve someone with food at table" (1680s) is translated from French servir "to help, stead, avail," and led to helping "portion of food." Related: Helped (c.1300). The Middle English past participle holpen survives in biblical and U.S. dialectal use.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with helping


In addition to the idioms beginning with help

  • helping hand
  • help oneself
  • help out

also see:

  • can't help but
  • every little bit helps
  • not if one can help it
  • so help me
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.