1

In English, the construction of questions with an implied offer to help someone, vary a bit with situation and region. Where I have lived, the questions:

May I help you?

and

Can I help you?

are common and are typically directed by shop assistants or call-centre employees to their customers. Neither expression is something you would probably say to an elderly person who was having difficulty getting across a busy street. In that situation, one would be more likely to ask

Do you need some help?

or

Would you like a hand?

In German, I have seen:

Soll ich Ihnen helfen?

and

Kann ich Ihnen helfen?

both of which appear in the Goethe Zertifikat B1 Wortliste, but I had not seen "Darf ich Ihnen helfen? until I checked the DWDS-Kernkorpus which includes a few examples from the 1930s.

What nuances, implications or situational variations are there in the use of

Darf ich Ihnen helfen?

Soll ich Ihnen helfen?

and

Kann ich Ihnen helfen?

Does the sollen form imply a sense of duty or requirement (as it appears to me)? Does sollen imply an unwilling duty, and if so, would a modal particle change this?

1

In

Kann ich Ihnen helfen?

kann is an example of meaning 2 a) β) as given in DWDS; one asks for permission, so it is correctly stated as synomymous to dürfen.

I can confirm, that darf ich Ihnen helfen is seldom encountered; one very rude way of turning down the offer is, to misinterpret the kann by turning to meaning 1 (being physically/mentally able to).

So no significant change of meaning will be achieved by using another modal verb. An important variant, if one sees, that the other person urgently needs assistance (but is afraid to ask), one could use the imperative:

Lassen Sie mich Ihnen helfen!

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