Usage quandaries, part 2: Try and


Jonathon's picture

formal vs. colloquial


Maybe this is a stupid question, but if the works of well-regarded authors and publications such as the Times Literary Supplement and New York Times Book Review aren't formal registers, then what is? Try and certainly hasn't achieved the same success as try to, but that's in part because usage commentators have been trying to quash it for the last couple of centuries.

Also, I think it's worth noting that try to only predates try and by about 50 years, and this use of and to connect two verbs dates back a thousand years or more to Old English (e.g. come and see, go and do, and so on). This construction is only illogical if one of your premises is that and can't (or at least shouldn't) work this way.

Posted on Tue, 05/15/2012 - 10:55am

Erin Brenner's picture

The problem is that the

Erin Brenner

The problem is that the quotes are from characters' speech rather than from descriptions, so the usage is still seen as informal by many people.

Posted on Tue, 05/15/2012 - 11:19am

Jonathon's picture

That makes sense. Thanks,


That makes sense. Thanks, Erin.

Posted on Tue, 05/15/2012 - 11:48am

"try and"


Try and make some sense! See how that doesn't make any sense. You try to make sense. You don't try and also make sense while you're at it, or make sense as a result of trying! It's foolish talk and I think it just started as bad grammar and then people passed it on to their kids and neighbors and pretty soon many people didn't know the difference.

I can't even say "try and" do something or other, in a casual or formal setting, because it makes no sense and it sticks in my mouth.

Posted on Wed, 05/16/2012 - 5:57am

What about if you think about


What about if you think about this in the past tense?

'Robert, try and open that bottle. I can't get the lid off.'

The result in the past tense is nonsensical:

'Robert tried and open the bottle.'

Although you could argue that 'Robert tried and opened the bottle' sounds OK, I think the following have different meanings:

'Robert tried and opened the bottle' (He tried and succeeded.)

'Robert tried to open the bottle' (He tried but didn't necessarily succeed.)

Posted on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 2:57am

Erin Brenner's picture

I think you're right about

Erin Brenner

I think you're right about the past tense. "Robert tried and opened the bottle" says something different to me than "Robert tried to open the bottle." I'd have to research why that is. Sounds like another blog post topic!

Posted on Thu, 10/18/2012 - 6:16am

formal vs. colloquial

DanPov (not verified)

Yes, "and" can be used to connect two verbs. Come here and see this; go there and do that. But, as it is typically used, "try and" doesn't involve two separate actions; it is a command to attempt to do something (unless you want to argue that the attempt to perform an action and the successful performance of the action are separate, but, at least in the present tense, there still isn't the same independence of verbs as in the "come and see" example).

Frankly, I would prefer "try to" even if "try and" predated it by millennia. Convention does not always confer validity, and speakers in the past were surely just as capable of linguistic mistakes as we are. Furthermore, what may have been considered correct centuries ago may not be today.

I don't consider myself a strict prescriptivist, but I feel that an idiom may be allowed to be illogical or nonliteral when it is a figure of speech or something like that, not simply a mistake (e.g., "could care less").

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The problem I have with


The problem I have with Walsh’s reasoning is that try and is an idiom. There’s no point in trying to make sense of an idiom’s grammar; an idiom has its own unique (“peculiar,” says the American Heritage Dictionary) grammar. It doesn’t have to make literal sense. - See more at:
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