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Posted by R. Berg on June 25, 2007

In Reply to: Helps posted by Tom on June 25, 2007

: I am interested in thoughts about the use of 'helps' as a noun. As in an aid in studying a topic or troubleshooting a problem or working through a set of program steps.

: The specific quote I read stated: "The text is large enough to be read easily and is set off by generous amounts of white space, all helps for beginning readers."

: That seemed . . .'odd' to me but the author said she did not have a second thought about it, seemed totally natural to her.

: Anyway, just curious as to how common, or correct, some of you found this word/phrase.

The use you quoted struck me as a bit nonmainstream, perhaps educators' jargon. (Education has a language all its own. Writers in that field routinely speak of "learnings.") However, I don't think there are reasonable grounds for objecting. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this sense of "help" goes back to the year 893 or thereabouts, when King Aelfred used it. That makes it Old English. A more recent example in the OED is "Books are no doubt very useful helps to knowledge" . Sentences like "A shopping list is a great help on grocery trips" are common. I think what sounds peculiar in your example is the use of the plural. "White space is a help for beginning readers" sounds more normal. But the 1894 quotation provides a precedent for the plural. Given the long history of "help" as a noun, your author's sentence is not a misuse.

By the way, since only two features were mentioned as aids for beginning readers, I'd say that "all" should be "both." ~rb