Grammar Rant! “Try and…”

In general, I try really hard to stay open-minded, to see most issues as potential conversations with multiple rational points of view.

Since most of the books I edit have a conversational tone, I’m probably more laid back than many other editors and word nerds when it comes to grammar conventions. For instance, I’d prefer to see a sentence end in a preposition than have it twisted into intricate knots for the sake of keeping object and preposition together. I’ve been known to occasionally prefer passive voice and to gleefully split infinitives. And I will admit that some of my pet peeves are matters of taste or at least have somewhat reasonable arguments to support them.

But sometimes I just need to rant. Sometimes there is no other valid point of view—anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. Today’s grammar rant is “try and” as in “I’m going to try and write this rant.”

(I always want to channel Yoda at this point: “Do or do not; there is no try and.” I know it doesn’t really work when you analyze it, but the arguments about this in my head are invariably in Yoda cadence. I just thought you’d like to know.)

I’ve seen and heard “try and” all over the place and it always makes me cringe—I’ve even seen it published in articles by writers who should know better and presumably edited by people who should know better. Apparently it’s been around for ages; “try and” isn’t yet another sign of the grammatical end times. But it’s still wrong wrong wrong. Seniority doesn’t make it right.

At best, when I say “I’m going to try and write” I’m giving you useless information. Assuming that I do in fact write this rant, the fact that I tried to do it is self evident and no longer relevant.

At worst, it’s unclear—which is the cardinal communication sin. “And” implies that both things happen. If I “try and write” then I have both tried and I have written. If I say “try and write” when I mean that I’m going to attempt to write something and I may or may not pull it off, then I shouldn’t use “and.” The proper word is “to”—“I’m going to try to write this rant.”

As this is English, there are of course exceptions, although I can only come up with one: “I have tried and failed.” In this case, it does matter that I’ve both tried and failed, as it’s possible to fail without even trying to succeed. But that’s past tense—we already know the outcome of the trying—and therefore doesn’t really fit the typical “try and” usage.

And that’s it—no complicated rules or things you need to remember. Just make sure you’re saying what you actually mean to say. “To” is even a shorter word than “and,” plus it’s slightly easier to type.

Please, for the sake of the Yoda voice in my head, try to remember to use “try to” instead of “try and.” Very grateful will I be.

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5 Responses to Grammar Rant! “Try and…”

  1. John Adamus says:

    Honestly, I was expecting this rant to be more rant-y.

    Shall I try and be more vitriolic?

  2. ayvalentine says:

    I realized that without a conflicting viewpoint, there’s only so much you can rant about without getting into ad hominem fallacies, and I don’t want to go there. And I honestly can’t come up with a single conflicting viewpoint for this one that holds any water whatsoever.

    If you’d like to be more vitriolic, you may feel free. :)

  3. nat says:

    Well, actually, there’s a whole class of legitimate “try and ____” constructions–it’s just that almost no one who says “try and” is actually using one of them. To take your example, “I’m going to try and fail” is a perfectly legitimate, if pessimistic, statement.

    That said, I’m with you: the constant misuse of it drives me batty.

    • ayvalentine says:

      Yes, I’m sure there are other legitimate examples besides “try and fail” although I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head! :) It seems relatively rare for the “try” to matter as much–or at least in the same way–as whatever other verb is linked to it.

      I think this one bugs me so much due to both its pervasiveness and the fact that I can’t figure out why it even caught on. It doesn’t make sense to me, and even in grammar (especially in grammar?) I like things to make some sense.

      • nat says:

        Figuring it’s origin out is easy–it’s for the same reason that “in my considerate opinion”, “I could care less”, and all sorts of other nonsense phrases have become commonplace: lots of people (1) don’t pay any attention to what they’re saying, (2) think that language is basically arbitrary so they have no expectation that what they’re saying should withstand logical scrutiny (not that they’re applying an scrutiny), and (3) repeat what they think they see/hear without concerning themselves with whether they heard it correctly or whether it is actually applicable to the way they’re using it. And thus the language evolves.

        I reserve a portion of my special scorn for the problem of “no cleaner is this effective!” which is either truth in advertising, or should say “no other cleaner is this effective!” (and similar statements, of course).

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