Have you landed on this page to “try to” improve your understanding of English grammar and usage—or to “try and” do so? Either way, you’ve come to the right place. The focus here is on whether “try to” and “try and” are both considered correct and are, thus, interchangeable.
The Short Answer
Language purists assert that “try and” is often illogical. We should say, for instance, “we will try to leave early” and not “we will try and leave early” because if we are merely trying to leave early but end up leaving late, the second part of that expression (“and leave early”) will prove inaccurate.
Also, if we knew for certain that we would leave early, we would simply say “we will leave early.” To say that we are trying to leave early allows for the possibility that we may not.
The lack of clarity in the “try and” construction is even more obvious in the phrase “try to succeed and fail.” While it is possible to try to succeed but to fail, it is impossible (except perhaps philosophically) to try and succeed and fail.
What Merriam-Webster Says
My favorite lexicon, Merriam-Webster (M-W), provides historical and linguistic insight into common usage conundrums, frequently deconstructing the pet peeves of overzealous grammar pedants.
On the subject of “try to” and “try and,” M-W contends that because the expression “try and” has appeared in published works for as long as (if not longer than) “try to,” we can feel free to use it. Such an argument makes sense if we’re talking about the evolution of a word’s definition or the acceptability of, say, starting sentences with and or but. However, the argument becomes specious when it stubbornly privileges frequency of use over precision.
Consider, for example, the lack of logic in these sentences:
- The trustees will try and raise $1 million in 2022. (It’s impossible to know that they will both try and succeed at raising the funds since they have not yet even begun the effort.)
- Most children are unsuccessful when they try and walk before they are six months old. (The majority may have tried to walk, but unless they were successful, they didn’t try and do so.)
- This year, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos will try and beat each other in a space race. (Nope, not possible; only one can beat the other.)
The trustees will “try to raise” the money but may fall short. Would-be toddlers may “try to walk” early but will often fail. In the space race, Musk and Bezos can “try to beat the other,” but only one can be first.
M-W goes to great lengths to prove that the latter is a very old construction—older, perhaps, than “try to”—claiming, it seems, that an illogical construction somehow magically becomes more logical over time.
I’m not convinced.
Would We Ever Say “Attempt and”?
One way to stress-test the expression “try and” is to consider how it would sound if we replaced try with a synonym—attempt, for example. When we do, the absurdity of the construction becomes even more apparent:
- Before we travel to Prague, I will attempt and read as many books as possible about the history of the Czech Republic.
- Her cat will often attempt and catch mice in the grass but is too well fed to be successful.
- We wanted to attempt and reach our destination before dark.
I can attempt to read books, cats can attempt to catch mice, and we can attempt to reach our destination before dark, but to use “attempt and” in these examples would render them unclear, imprecise, and illogical. So if we recognize the absurdity of writing “attempt and [verb],” why would we write “try and [verb]”?
Languages Do Change
Longtime Get It Write readers know that the advice on this site fully acknowledges and takes into consideration the fluid nature of language. We must all be willing to change as our language inevitably changes. I’ve accepted (albeit grudgingly) the fact that nauseous is now synonymous with nauseated. I wholeheartedly defend the use of the singular they, their, and them in the absence of a non-gendered third-person singular pronoun in the English language. And I’m willing to concede (sadly) that one day whom will be relegated to the dustbin of antiquated words no longer in use.
But I’m digging in my heels on the issue of treating these two phrases as if they were interchangeable. Writers should always seek to be as clear and logical as possible, and in many cases, “try and” is neither clear nor logical.
What do you think? Get It Write newsletter subscribers and learners who have taken a GIW course (online or in person) may ask to join the GIW Facebook group, where we have lively discussions. And we welcome everyone to “like” the GIW Facebook page.
©Get It Write 2021
Thank you for this article! I’ve always said “try to” although I haven’t seen an article about this usage before now. It was difficult partly because a friend who has a degree in English Literature, and is really well-spoken, has always said “try and.”
Hi, Linda. We ALL have internalized “mistakes” that are hard to undo. I grew up hearing “can’t hardly,” which is a double negative, and I had to work for years to say “can hardly” instead. I have a friend with a PhD in English who always says she “feels badly” about this or that. (I have an article in this archive on that topic, too.) I appreciate your reading and commenting! Are you a subscriber?