Try and Try Again

Lesson: “Try and” versus “try to”

This issue has come up repeatedly in the last two books I have edited. Characters will try and do something instead of trying to do something. But the characters, or the writers, aren’t really to blame. Every day, everywhere, in English-speaking countries, people try and do things instead of trying to do things. It’s easy to get caught up in the craze, sort of like the hula hoop.

People try and buy some grapefruit. People try and catch some rays. People try and have a good time. People try and escape from prison.

And these people are (kinda, sorta) wrong.

The word “try” should take the preposition “to” instead of the article “and.” Why, you ask? When you say you will try to do something, you are admitting the outcome is not guaranteed. To “try to pick up some beets on the way home” means you may or may not come home with beets. If you get caught in a torrential downpour, with severe thunder and lightening and cats and dogs falling from the sky, you might decide to skip the quaint side-of-the-road stand where you usually get your beets, instead coming home empty-handed. And, rest assured, the person you are saying this to will know the beets are not guaranteed because “to” links “try” and “pick up,” making one seamless idea that may or may not result in beets for dinner.

On the other hand, if you say you will “try and pick up some beets on the way home,” it sounds like you are doing two separate things: trying and picking up some beets. Moreover, it sounds like you will both try and succeed in picking up the beets. And if you know you will pick up the beets, why not just say, “I will pick up beets on the way home.” There’s no need for this “trying” business if you know an outcome for sure.

So why is saying “try and” only kinda, sorta wrong?

“Try and” is accepted as being an informal idiom, or figure of speech. I hope we agree that when you dissect “try and,” it proves to be confusing. However, people are sensitized enough to “try and” that they understand the meaning. In the realm of texts, talk, e-mail, and chatting, “try to” can be interchangeable with “try and,” depending on how big of a grammar stickler you are communicating with. However, avoid using “try and” in formal writing, where it’s more important to show off your Standard English writing skills.

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