Usage quandaries, part 2: Try and
It begs the question: Did you try and literally infer you could care less?
This week, we’ll look at try and.
Walsh is working on a new book and has been thinking a lot about these and other usage problems. In his 2000 Lapsing Into a Comma, he stood against try and as illogical and unnecessary with try to in easy reach. I asked him if he still felt that way.
“I have to enforce this peeve,” he said. “You try to do something. To try and do something is to (a) try to do it, and (b) do it, which is not the intended meaning of the phrase.”
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.
Try and isn’t a newcomer, either. It first appeared in English in 1686, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s been used consistently since then, notably in the works of Dickens, Thackeray, and E. B. White and in places like the Times Literary Supplement and New York Times Book Review.
Yet during its tenure, try and has not made it into English’s formal registers. It’s remained colloquial. The following table shows that we use try and, but we use try to more often, particularly in formal writing.
Try and is neither a new construction nor an ungrammatical one. It’s been consistently used and accepted for centuries. However, it is typically used in casual writing and speech rather than in formal writing. Before using try and, think about the text and the audience. If the writing is formal, stick with try to. However, if the writing is less formal, such as a magazine article, it’s OK to leave try and.
Where do you stand on try and? Share your opinions in the comments section below!
The rest of the series