“Try To” Vs. “Try And”

Try to understand / Try and understand…

I love when I get asked a question that I don’t immediately know the answer to. I enjoy looking into various parts of this fascinating, complicated language of ours! Two weeks ago, ESL-Library’s head writer/social media director, Tara Benwell, asked me to explain the difference between “try to” and “try and” in a blog post. I told her I’d try to do it! Or is that try and do it…

Online:

First, I turned to my new favourite resource, googlefight.com. Googlefight looks at all the results on Google and gives you stats on which is mentioned more often. I typed in try to and try and, watched the stick men duke it out, and got some interesting results. The results were pretty even: try and, with 3,190,000,000 results, only slightly beat try to, with 3,180,000,000 results. I was surprised! I thought that try to would be the more ‘“correct” grammar. This required further investigation!

Winner = try and

Next, I used Google Books Ngram Viewer to see how often try to and try and have appeared in books. The search parameters were from 1800 and 2008 from the corpus of English. The image below clearly shows that try to appears more often than try and in print form.

Winner = try to

Another search I did, that might appeal to students, was to enter the following into a Google search: 1) “try to” song, and 2) “try and” song. Tell students to look for song titles with those phrases followed by a verb. Several songs appeared on the first results page for try to, whereas only one song appeared for try and (“Try and Love Again” by the Eagles, in case you were wondering).

Winner = try to

Reference Books:

Although the dictionaries I checked only had entries for try in general, some of them gave examples using try to and try and. The Oxford Dictionary Online gave examples of both:

  • He tried to regain his breath.
  • I started to try and untangle the mystery.

Winner = tie

The Chicago Manual of Style, a very reputable style guide, had nothing to say specifically about the two phrases. But a quick online search of their website showed that they use try to a few times in their writing. (E.g., section 8.118: Writers and editors should try to follow the standards established within those fields.) Try and did not appear anywhere in the manual.

Winner = try to

The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style defined try and as “…a casualism for try to”. But the best source of information on these two phrases, by far, was Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. According to MW, the use of and in place of to in infinitive verbs has been occurring in English since the 16th century, with try and, specifically, appearing in the 17th century. Furthermore, there is no difference in meaning, although it remains a contentious issue for grammarians.

Winner = tie

Conclusion:

What do these results tell us? Overall, try to is the safest choice. In my opinion, try to seems to be the more formal, “correct grammar” choice. It’s favored use in books points to that. However, we can’t overlook common usage, especially since a lot of publishing happens online nowadays. It seems that, these days, try to and try and are equally acceptable. For casual speaking and writing, you can basically choose which one you want to use.

What should we tell our students? I’d tell my students that there are two forms with the same meaning, and in casual writing and speaking, they can use either try to or try and. But in more formal academic or business writing, it might be best to stick with try to.

Overall winner = try to (but only slightly)

Note: It’s interesting that you can’t use try and when you change the tense of try. I tried to explain it is correct, but I tried and explain it is incorrect. That could be another reason to suggest that students stick with try to.

Try, try again,

Tanya

4 comments

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  1. tanya@tbtk.net'

    Tanya says:

    Aug 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks, Tara! This was a fun one to write. I hadn’t heard about Google Battle! I just tried it with these terms, and “try and” got 6,080,000,000 whereas “try to” got 10,510,000,000 hits. It’s kind of strange that “try to” won on Google Battle but “try and” won on Google Fight! I wonder what the differences are in how they get the results.

    Reply

  2. Tara Benwell says:

    Aug 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Hi Tanya,

    Thanks so much for tackling this one. I have to admit, I am really surprised by these results! I always thought “try and” was wrong, but I catch myself using it because it’s so common. I love how you shared some of your methods of investigating. I often use Google Battle, but I’ve never used these other ones. You really are a great sleuth for our library. This is one of my favourite posts to date! Thanks again!

    Cheers,
    Tara

    Reply

    • afrederick1@unl.edu'

      Andy Frederick says:

      May 11, 2018 at 10:49 am

      You’re right that “try and” doesn’t work when you change the tense. But that didn’t stop CNN from writing “trying and” today. They have a headline on their home page that says “Foreign Minister says he’s trying and save the deal with Europeans after Trump pulled out.” Ye gads! Another test that proves “try and” is clearly wrong: try negating your phrase. Here’s how you negate “try to”: “It’s icy out there; try not to fall.” Now try to negate “try and”: “It’s icy out there; try not and fall.” Hmm. Maybe it should be: “It’s icy out there; try and not fall.” Eh. Clunky and not natural. I contend that the “try and” people wouldn’t say “try and not.” They’d say “try not to” without even realizing they had abandoned the “and” in favor of “to.” Lastly, the word “and” is additive. When you say “try and X” you mean you’re going to try and you’re going to X. “And” is such a basic and powerful conjunction. Should we really be redefining it because some people lazily swap it for “to”? The correct phrase is “try to.” “Try and” is wrong. Don’t give people the idea that “try and” is ever okay.

      Reply

      • Tanya Trusler says:

        May 14, 2018 at 12:48 pm

        Great points, Andy! Thanks for sharing. I agree that “try to” is the best choice.

        Reply

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