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What is the exact difference between "helfen", "weiterhelfen" and "weiter helfen"? This is my understanding so far, after reading the corresponding definitions in Duden:

helfen - general verb for "to help". It can be used in distress situations (eg when sb is trying to steal from you or when you have broken a leg) or when you are trying to reach a goal (eg when you are trying to move a heavy box, find a place or make a reservation)

weiterhelfen - used when you are trying to reach a goal

weiter helfen - to help further. A previous help is implicit.

Examples:

  • Hotel XXX. Wie könnte ich Ihnen helfen / weiterhelfen?

  • Ich werde in dieser Straße von drei Dieben verfolgt. Bitte hilf mir!

  • Ich weiß du bist gestern schon nach Hause gekommen, aber könntest du bitte mir heute (weiter helfen) / (wieder helfen)?

Is that right?

  • 2
    I don't understand "Ich weiß du hast gestern schon nach Hause gekommen" – πάντα ῥεῖ May 12 at 7:55
  • "hast" is wrong, it should be "bist". And from context I'd also say it should be "erst" instead of "schon" in this example! – Constantin Groß May 12 at 8:42
  • Also "kann" instead of "könnte" in the first example sentence – Constantin Groß May 12 at 8:43
  • You are right about "hast gekommen", I used the wrong auxiliary verb. Fixed it. Regarding erst/schon, I meant "I know that you have already come to the house yesterday". erst=only and schon=already, so I don't understand why I should use "erst" here. Regarding the first example, isn't "könnte" a polite form of "kann" (as could-can in English)? – Alan Evangelista May 12 at 12:28
  • Similar case: "weiterkommen" vs. "weiter kommen" – Annatar May 13 at 6:53
3

Your assumptions are largely correct.
"Weiterhelfen" (note: separable verb) and "weiter helfen" use "weiter" in different senses:

Könntest du mir bitte mit meinen Hausaufgaben helfen.
- Could you help me with my homework.

Könntest du mir bitte mit meinen Hausaufgaben weiterhelfen.
- I'm having trouble, could you help me move on.

Könntest du mir bitte weiter mit meinen Hausaufgaben helfen.
- You've helped me, could you continue doing so

Könntest du mir bitte wieder mit meinen Hausaufgaben helfen.
- Could you help me again...

You'll often hear "Kann ich Ihnen weiterhelfen?" in hotels or stores, because they are assuming you're looking for something you can't find, or they think you need help proceeding with your purchase.

Also note: since weiterhelfen is separable

Hilf mir bitte weiter.

is ambiguous. It can mean either one of

  • Help me move on
  • Help me again.
  • Given the meaning of "weiterhelfen", it was puzzling to me why German hotel/store clerks sometimes use it when they greet the client personally or by phone. Thanks for providing the implicit assumption common in German. In English, usually there is no such assumption and greeting a client with "Can I help you with something you are stuck with?" or "Can I help you to get further/proceed?" would sound odd. – Alan Evangelista May 12 at 12:48
  • 2
    Actually "weiterhelfen" has a slightly broader meaning than I suggested: "Can I help you proceed?" comes closest. Store clerks don't want to help you, they want to expedite your purchase – PiedPiper May 12 at 13:26
2

helfen

This is the general "to help".
If "weiter" is part of the phrase then it restricts the meaning as I will describe now.

weiterhelfen

weiter = further, weiterhelfen = to help so. get further or proceed with something.

Example. Someone doesn't understand how to do a math homework. "Kannst du mir weiterhelfen?" means I am stuck with that step and can't proceed, can you help me to get further / to get over my problem?
Or: I don't know where I am / where I have to go and can't find out myself. Can you help me to find my current location / target location on this map?

This is a situation where the one to ask for help cannot get along without help. Perhaps only a small hint or gesture is necessary to help this person.

weiter helfen

The words are separated, here "weiter" means "to continue" or "again". Think of "weiterhin".

Example: you helped someone clean the garage but you are not finished. Then after a break or on another day the person asks "kannst du mir weiter helfen?" - can you help me again.

This is a situation where the one to ask for help could work on alone too, but asks for assistance again. As "weiter" is part of the phrase, this implies there already was some help before. If you ask for help the first time you wouldn't say "weiter helfen" because there was nothing that "again" could refer to.

The difference

To make it weird in case of the homework example the person could say "danke du hast mir weitergeholfen (1), möchtest du mir weiter (2) bei meiner Hausaufgabe helfen?".
This means
(1) thanks you helped me to understand the step,
(2) do you want to keep helping me with my homework ( ... or should I try on my own)

  • Could you give some examples of "helfen" NOT used in situations? – Alan Evangelista May 12 at 12:54
  • uhm... well I think I should refine my answer in regard to this :-) – puck May 12 at 14:58

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