Try to do/try doing/try and do

Discussion in 'English Only' started by moodywop, Dec 4, 2005.

  1. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Textbooks for foreign learners of English often state that "try doing something" means experimenting with a particular course of action (-I don't know what else to do - Try apologizing to her) whereas "try to do something" means "make an effort/strive to do something" (Come on! At least try to help him!).

    Is this distinction actually adhered to in real speech? And if so, where does "try and" fit in?


  2. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I agree with the text. The phrases have a different "flavor" to me - it feels right to use them as described, although I've never thought of it in terms of a rule to be followed.

    Still thinking about try and....
  3. Moogey Senior Member

    New Jersey, USA
    USA English
    Hello moodywop!

    (As a command) Try + progressive verb (try apologizing to her) is more along the lines of "It might be a good idea to ..."

    That would make your example this: "I don't know what else to do" - "It might be a good idea to apologize to her"

    The individual is suggesting something but is also uncertain of the outcome sometimes.

    (Present) Try + infinite (try to apologize) is more like an order to put in an effort or a statement that effort will be put in. Even if the action isn't completed or completed the right way, at least you put in the effort. There's a bit of uncertainty about the completion of the action.

    "Try and + infinite" is just like "try to + infinite" but it's actually incorrect grammatically. In English, the infinite almost always has "to" in it. In this incorrect usage, "and" replaces "to" and therefore it's technically no longer considered infinite under grammar. (As I understand grammar...)

    However, "try to apologize" is understood the same way as "try and apologize"

  4. mamboney

    mamboney Senior Member

    Rocky Mountains
    English (USA)
    I don't think that is always a true distinction that I make in my everyday speech. If I say "I will try calling you at 11:00" then that means literally that "I will attempt to call you at 11:00", or what I really mean is "if I can, I will call you at 11:00" (but I may not be able to--it implies doubt, or that something is unlikely to happen).
    It does not mean that I am "experimenting" in calling you.

    If I say, "I will try to call you" - there is no distinction from what "I will try calling you" means--they are the same. Also if I say "I will try and call you", it means the same (I will attempt to call you).

    "You can try different approaches to answering these questions"-- in this case, try means to experiment. You are "experimenting with different approaches to do something.

    Hopefully this did not confuse you further!
  5. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Many thanks to you all for your interesting responses.

  6. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Source: Alone, Lisa Gardner

    Background: During his last session of therapy, the officer felt it was time to talk more about his family problems with the psychiatrist . Since he was a kid, his parents had been divorced and never contacted each other.

    It looks like there's a difference of opinion as to the usage of "try to verb" and "try + ing". But when it comes to using it in questions, do you think there's a tendency to use "try + ing" rather than "try to"?
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
  7. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Let's face it, in practice these two activities are going to coincide. I can't try phoning a person (to see if that tactic works) unless I try to phone them (to see if I can get through).

    However, I can hold it quite clear in my mind which stage I'm at, and the English language helps me to do that. Perhaps the distinction is clearer in the past, when can see which tactic actually succeeded. ("I thought I'd try phoning her for the information but when I tried to phone, the line was dead.") I would certainly not feel a tendency to use "try + ing" rather than "try to" in that case. Let's not blur the distinction.
  8. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thanks Keith~
  9. JaNatuurlijk231 New Member



    Hmm I must draw attention to the paragraph which addresses the usage "try and do something." And I use my own phrasing very much so on purpose.

    "I must draw..." the infinitive in English is not tied to "to" quite to the contrary it traces its root back to its Old English counter parts. Hence, as in "must draw," "draw" represents what some call the bare infinitive and it should be kept in mind that "to ...." is in all actuality a verb phrase as my old professor love to point out. Therefore, though not prescriptively correct, "to quickly do something" is to a native speaker grammatically correct, ie carries meaning without any misunderstanding, as to and do are two distinct which form a perfect verb phrase when quickly is inserted between them.

    The point to the above is that the infinitive following the "and" in the phrasing "to try and do something" is very much so easily understood as an infinitive. I cannot claim to fully understand the phrasing, perhaps the "and" has become its own marker for an infinitive phrase?, But I do know that in everyday speech, I and others I know do use the phrasing and no meaning is lost. To me it is a very casual/relaxed way of phrasing the statement perfect for everyday conversation though not formal situations, which I hope gives the questioner further perspective on both how to use try and maybe the English lang :)

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 22, 2012

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