Choosing Between “Try and” vs. “Try to”: A Guide to Correct Usage

Marcus Froland

So, you’re sitting there, pen in hand or fingers poised over the keyboard, and you hit a speed bump. You want to say you’ll attempt something, but then, the road splits. Do you go down the “try and” path or take the “try to” route? This isn’t just about choosing; it’s about knowing which one fits snugly into your sentence, lighting it up like a Christmas tree.

The English language loves to throw curveballs. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, there’s a fork in the road. But don’t sweat it. This isn’t a high-stakes decision, but making the right choice can make your sentence shine. It’s all about clarity and precision, and yes, sometimes about following the rules—or knowing just when to bend them.

When deciding which phrase to use, “try and” or “try to”, it’s important to know the difference. “Try to” is more correct in formal writing. It means you’re making an effort to do something. For example, “I will try to call you later.” On the other hand, “try and” is more casual and often used in spoken English. It can suggest two actions, like in “Try and call me later.” However, if you’re writing for school, work, or in a professional setting, stick with “try to”. It keeps your writing clear and precise.

Introduction to the “Try and” vs. “Try to” Debate

The “try and” vs. “try to” debate has remained a point of contention among English speakers, as both phrases carry nuanced meanings and implications. While “try to” is widely considered the more grammatically acceptable choice, “try and” continues to thrive in informal speech and casual writing, despite its often-deemed colloquial nature. In this section, we break down the key arguments surrounding the correct usage of these phrases, investigating the contrasting opinions of grammarians, linguists, and other language experts.

Advocates of “try to” argue that it represents the preferred standard in all levels of formality and is appropriate for both speech and writing. On the other hand, they view “try and” as an informal alternative best suited for casual conversations. However, this stance remains under scrutiny, as the continuous use of “try and” within English writing since the 1500s contradicts the assumption that the phrase is unequivocally incorrect.

“Try and” defies the notion that it should be avoided in writing, proving its value as a versatile and widely accepted phrase – Jackie Hartman, Language Expert

To better understand the divide between these two phrases, let’s explore the primary arguments that have fueled this grammar debate:

  1. Formality: “Try to” is deemed more appropriate for formal contexts, whereas “try and” is often associated with casual communication or dialogue.
  2. Grammar rules: Critics of “try and” claim that it violates the rules of infinitives and verb combinations. Conversely, “try to” aligns with these rules and is deemed more grammatically correct.
  3. Historical usage: Despite being labeled as “informal,” “try and” has consistently appeared in written English since the 1500s, suggesting that it holds validity in various contexts.

As we delve further into this ongoing debate, it becomes evident that the choice between “try and” vs. “try to” isn’t cut-and-dried. Choosing the correct phrase ultimately depends on factors such as context, tone, and personal preference. Moving forward, we’ll unravel the history and evolution of these phrases, providing insights into their etymology and usage over time, while also examining the grammar rules associated with infinitives and verb combinations.

The History and Evolution of “Try and” and “Try to”

The phrases “try and” and “try to” have a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries. Understanding their etymology and historical usage helps explain the evolution of these phrases and sheds light on the common misconceptions surrounding their acceptability in various contexts.

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The Etymology of “Try and”

The origin of “try and” can be traced back to the 16th century when “try” as a verb meaning “to attempt” was first recorded. Over the years, the phrase has held its position in the English language, appearing in works authored by many prominent writers throughout history. By examining the etymology of “try and,” we gain insight into the evolution of the phrase and how it acquired its colloquial identity in modern times.

Historical Usage of “Try to”

Although “try and” predates “try to,” the latter phrase is not far behind in terms of historical usage. It began appearing in formal writing shortly after the introduction of “try and” and has since been widely accepted as the standard form for grammatical structures, especially in formal contexts. The historical use of “try to” has contributed significantly to its adoption as the preferred choice within formal writing and speech.

Common Misconceptions About “Try and”

One widespread misconception about “try and” is its labeling as nonstandard or incorrect due to its informal character. However, supporters of the phrase argue that its acceptability is based on common usage and not strict grammatical correctness.

Linguistic authorities identify contexts in which “try and” may imply either a sense of success or an ironic hint of failure.

This pragmatic approach highlights that “try and” is not inherently problematic from a grammatical standpoint, emphasizing the importance of considering context when determining the appropriateness of specific phrases.

  1. Etymology of “try and” and its origins as an informal phrase
  2. Historical usage of “try to” and its broader acceptance in formal writing
  3. Understanding common misconceptions and grammar myths about “try and”

By tracing the histories of “try and” and “try to” and studying their etymology, we can better comprehend the controversies and misconceptions that have enveloped these phrases. Furthermore, an understanding of their origins and historical usage allows us to make more informed choices when determining the most appropriate phrase for our writing, balancing formality, tone, and grammar with ease.

Grammar Rules: Infinitives and Verb Combinations

In English grammar, infinitives play a crucial role in enhancing the versatility of sentences. The use of “to” before an infinitive verb is common; however, it is not obligatory in every case. Let’s take a closer look at the grammar rules regarding infinitives and verb combinations, particularly in the context of “try and” and “try to.”

The Role of Infinitives and Their Connection to “To”

Infinitive verbs, in their simplest form, consist of the base verb preceded by “to,” such as “to eat,” “to dance,” or “to learn.” Nonetheless, certain essential exceptions occur where the infinitive omits “to.” These include instances like:

  • Infinitives following modal verbs (must, can, will, etc.)
  • Infinitives after certain structures (let, make, help, etc.)
  • Infinitives in certain idiomatic expressions (had better, would rather, etc.)

Understanding the correct application of these rules can help distinguish the acceptability and limitations of the “try and” and “try to” constructs.

Variations Between “Try And” and “Try To” in Grammar

One critical distinction between “try and” and “try to” lies within their capacities to accommodate different grammatical scenarios. In this context, “try to” offers more flexibility, as it can perform various grammatical feats that “try and” cannot:

  1. Used in negation: “She tried not to laugh,” whereas “She tried not and laugh” doesn’t work.
  2. Inflected forms: “She’s trying to avoid distractions,” but “She’s trying and avoid distractions” is incorrect.
  3. Adverb splitting: “She tried carefully to follow the rules,” which doesn’t work with “She tried carefully and follow the rules.”
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The inconsistencies between “try and” and “try to” in these examples highlight the importance of being aware of the differences in their grammatical limitations.

“Try to” can be more readily adapted to different grammatical situations, while “try and” has a narrower scope, limiting its use in certain instances.

“Try and” in Popular Literature and Media

In literature, many acclaimed authors have used “try and” in their works, encompassing both classic and contemporary pieces. This widespread utilization of “try and” in popular writing suggests its acceptability among proficient language practitioners and its long-established presence in the English language.

Notable Authors Who Use “Try and”

Several eminent authors have employed the phrase “try and” in their literary masterpieces. Among these prominent writers are:

  1. William Makepeace Thackeray
  2. George Eliot
  3. Theodore Dreiser
  4. Ernest Hemingway
  5. E.B. White

Interestingly, these respected authors have showcased the integration of “try and” into their writing styles, acknowledging its legitimacy and significant place in popular culture.

How Media Reflects Language Norms

Media is a powerful platform that mirrors the language norms of society, often highlighting phrases like “try and” mainly in informal contexts. By representing such colloquial speech, media supports the continuity and acceptance of this linguistic trend across diverse platforms and periods. An analysis of common media usage reveals how language morphs over time, reflecting the evolving preferences of speakers, writers, and the general public.

The Role of “Try and” in Informal Settings

In many informal settings, “try and” appears natural and acceptable. Embracing a positive connotation, it stands in contrast to the more neutral tone of “try to.” By taking on the role of a staple in everyday conversation and informal writing, “try and” maintains its position as a prominent feature of colloquial speech.

To understand the role of “try and” in informal language, let us examine the following example:

Can you try and meet me at the café tomorrow afternoon?

Here, the use of “try and” conveys a friendly tone, fitting well within an informal context when compared to the neutral sound of “try to.”

By highlighting the use of “try and” in notable literary works and media representations, it is clear that this phrase has been extensively embraced and has earned its place as an essential element of the English language. Despite the ongoing debate surrounding its grammatical accuracy, the widespread use of “try and” in both literature and day-to-day language reflects its vital role in colloquial speech and informal writing contexts.

When to Use “Try to” for Formal Writing

In formal writing contexts, such as academic articles, professional reports, or legal documentation, the phrase “try to” is deemed appropriate and favored due to its grammatical correctness and adaptability in complex sentence structures. It is unequivocally accepted across the spectrum of formality, particularly in academic and professional environments. Using “try to” ensures that your writing adheres to the expected standards and communicates your message effectively.

Below are some examples of sentences where using “try to” is more suitable for formal writing:

  1. Please try to finish the report by the end of the week.
  2. Our goal is to try to achieve a 10% increase in sales this quarter.
  3. In her thesis, the author tries to examine the impact of climate change on agriculture.

It is essential to understand the different contexts in which “try to” is more suitable, as it allows for the creation of clear and precise communication in various professional and academic situations. To further emphasize its application, here are some reasons why “try to” is the preferred choice in formal writing:

  • Adaptability in sentence structures: “Try to” can easily fit into various sentence constructions, including negations (e.g., “We will try not to miss the deadline”), adverb splitting (e.g., “We will try earnestly to complete the task”), and inflected forms (e.g., “In the meeting, she tried to explain the situation”).
  • Universally recognized in formal contexts: “Try to” is understood and accepted in diverse professional environments, making it suitable for use in written communication, public speaking, or formal presentations.
  • Neutral tone: The use of “try to” provides a more neutral tone, helping writers maintain an objective stance and focus on presenting the facts without any unintended emotional undertones.
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By carefully considering the context and desired tone of your writing, you can confidently choose “try to” as the appropriate phrase for formal communication. This choice not only ensures that you adhere to the rules of professional language but also reflects a commitment to precise, accurate, and effective expression in the academic and professional world.

Nuances and Subtleties in Tone: “Try and” vs. “Try to”

When it comes to choosing between “try and” and “try to,” it’s essential to consider the tone nuances and “try and” subtleties their usage can create. Both phrases may seem interchangeable, but the expression connotations vary, significantly impacting the reader’s perception of your writing. It’s crucial to understand these differences to select the appropriate phrase for your content, depending on its formality and the desired tone.

“Try and” generally conveys a sense of positivity and friendliness. In informal writing or conversation, using “try and” can create a more approachable, relatable tone. It can make your text or speech seem warmer and more lighthearted, which might be suitable in certain contexts, like casual discussions or personal messages.

After she spoke with her advisor, she decided to try and find a different topic for her thesis.

On the other hand, “try to” presents a more formal and neutral tone. This phrase is more appropriate in professional or academic settings, where a higher degree of formality is necessary. By using “try to,” you effectively maintain politeness and adhere to traditional grammar conventions.

After extensive research, the scientist aimed to try to develop a new method for carbon capture.

Consider the desired tone and level of formality of your writing as you choose between “try and” and “try to.” While both phrases have their place, understanding the subtle differences in expression connotations can result in more accurate and effective communication.

Phrases Tone Nuances Preferred Context
Try and Friendly, positive, informal Casual conversation, informal writing
Try to Formal, neutral Professional or academic writing

Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Phrase for Your Writing

In conclusion, understanding the context and desired tone of your writing is essential when choosing between “try and” and “try to.” Each phrase carries different nuances that can impact the interpretation and overall effectiveness of your communication. As a general rule, opt for “try to” in formal writing, where grammatical correctness and a neutral tone are of primary importance.

On the other hand, “try and” is more suited for informal settings and achieving a conversational tone, particularly in day-to-day interactions and dialogue. While some grammar enthusiasts may object to its usage, the historical presence and frequent use of “try and” by renowned authors and media outlets attest to its validity.

Ultimately, effective communication relies on your ability to choose the right phrase that best aligns with your writing purpose and audience. With this guide, you are now well-equipped to make informed decisions and employ both “try and” and “try to” accurately and purposefully in your work.

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