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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