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In written and standard semi-formal (and above) spoken English, one would use "try to":

Try to be a better person.

Try to get the fishhook out of my thumb, please.

Try to find a pharmacy when you need one.

But in spoken English, we (Americans, at least) usually substitute "try and" for all those cases.

"Try to" makes sense because the "to" begins the construction of an infinitive: "try to be", "try to do", "try to act" and so on. "Try and" on the other hand doesn't seem to make any sense.

I'm curious how the "try and" crept in, and when. It's really tough to Google small words like these, so I'm not finding anything on the Web. Is it a contraction of something like "Try hard, and ..."?

Note: I've seen this question and it is somewhat related but doesn't tell me what I want to know.

Edit

Observe how, even on this site, people tend to gravite toward the "try and" construction.

Turning it on its head

Note that you can't make a negative construction with "try and":

It's raining. Try not to get wet.

It's raining. Try not and get wet. [?]

Even adding do doesn't help. The following means something different from "try not to get wet."

It's raining. Don't try and get wet.

Even use of to instead of and there means something else:

It's raining. Don't try to get wet.

"Try not to get wet" means try to stay dry. "Don't try to get wet" means avoid actively seeking out a soaking, and implies that a soaking might in fact be what you are looking for.

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Re “we (Americans, at least)”: we Brits do it too. –  PLL May 25 '11 at 22:38
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This is one of my big pet peeves. I have been known to stomp my little foot and exclaim "try to! try to!" right in the middle of meetings. –  KitFox May 25 '11 at 22:47
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@Kit: Calm down or you'll have a heart attack when someone else in the meeting says "I would of said that's a bit extreme" :-) –  FumbleFingers May 26 '11 at 14:19
    
@FumbleFingers That's just cruel. –  KitFox May 26 '11 at 14:34
    
@Kit: Sorry. Hadn't realised the potential for causing distress by hypothetical reported speech! :) –  FumbleFingers May 26 '11 at 14:52

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I'd like to hazard a guess on this one. The construct "try and do such and such" sounds to me very much like a figure of speech called hendiadys. This figure of speech is the use of two words joined by a conjunction to mean just the one word, but mean so emphatically. In fact the name "hendiadys" literally means "one through two."

I believe it was more common in classical languages than in English, but this would surely attest to its ancient origin. Examples might be "shock and awe", "rant and rave", "plain and simple". Wikipedia gives some other examples and more information.

It does seem uncommon with verbs, but it is certainly not unknown. The Bible is replete with such examples. For example, Jesus told Zacchaeus to "haste and come down from the tree." These were not two actions, but one, meaning specifically hastily come down. A common idiom in Bible English is "He answered and said...", again not one action but two, meaning "he said in answer ...".

I wonder if "try and do such and such" is a remnant of that type of hendiadys. Opinions?

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+1 for a nice idea. –  Ergwun May 26 '11 at 0:37
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-1: interesting idea, but I don't think it'll fly –  FumbleFingers May 26 '11 at 1:01
    
Very interesting. In the Germanic languages, I believe hendiadys was often used with verbs in the Middle Ages, especially in official documents, as in the King orders and commands that.... This old usage is quite well known in Dutch too: someone aiming at an archaic effect would now jokingly say things like he has been killed and murdered. However, I'm not sure whether this is the source of try and, because both verbs aren't close in meaning there. I don't know; it could be. –  Cerberus May 26 '11 at 2:45
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@Fraser Orr: +1 and thanks for hendiadys, a figure of speech I did not know until now (and I thought I knew them all). Also, a Google search turns up 'Fowler says that try and ... for try to ... is a "true example" of hendiadys.' [Wikipedia] I'm not a big fan of Fowler, but this is a solid clue nevertheless. –  Robusto May 26 '11 at 9:18
    
BTW, I'm not sure why two people downvoted this. Apologies to @Fraser Orr. –  Robusto May 26 '11 at 12:43

The only issue not covered by the question OP linked to arises from the mistaken assumption that try and is some kind of latter-day corruption of an established 'correct' form try to.

But that's probably not how to look at it — most likely try and was around all the time, and it may well predate try to. I think probably various language mavens considered the 'grammar' of try and, decided it contravened their idea of logic, and succeeded in fooling at least some people into their way of thinking for some of the time.

LATER - Thanks to Peter Shor for this little gem...

Suspect: "Try and convict me." Prosecutor: "Have it your way. We'll try and convict you."

I'd also like to make the grammatic/semantic case for try and, since others seem to assume it's just an inexplicable linguistic aberration.

To try can mean to make an effort, which can be seen as an action in and of itself. So you can make an effort and thereby achieve the desired result. This doesn't really work if you assume to try is a synonym for to attempt, because grammatically you need to attempt something.

Note that we're assuming the effort will in fact be successful, and therefore the result will follow. In this way of looking at things, to try and do something is simply a more 'optimistic' phrasing than try to.

Some people may object to try and, but have no problem with make an effort and. Die-hards may need to go one step further and equate make an effort with give it one's best shot, or similar. As you move further away from the concept of attempting with the possibility of failure, and more towards making the necessary effort to achieve something, it seems to me that and becomes more and more the more appropriate word.

In short, try and can be seen as a somewhat more optimistic way of referring to some endeavour than try to. It's the linguistic device hendiadys as put forward by Fraser Orr, conflating the effort with the accomplishment.

As Jedi warriors such as myself and Yoda say: There is no try. There is only do.

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The obvious Ngrams search supports this thesis that try and is plenty old. Being a corpus of written sources, Ngrams strongly favours try to; but (perhaps surprisingly) it shows it winning ever more strongly in recent years — try to has been steadily gaining ground in writing since the 1800’s! –  PLL May 25 '11 at 22:32
    
@PLL: I don't really have an opinion on 'correctness' for this one. I prefer to use try to in formal writing - not because I think it's more correct, but because I'm aware that some others may think that. In speech I invariably use try and. Partly because it seems to roll off the tongue easier for me, partly because I think when actually vocalised, try to sounds a little 'twee'. –  FumbleFingers May 25 '11 at 22:46
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In many of the early 1800's instances of "try and", try is used in the sense of put on trial or test. E.g., "with full power to try and punish ...", "to try and judge him", "fear not to try and taste ..." Looking at the first 100 pre-1800 Google books results, I didn't find a single unambiguous instance of "try and" used for "try to." By 1860, however, "try and" used for "try to" seems quite common. –  Peter Shor May 25 '11 at 22:54
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Suspect: "Try and convict me." Prosecutor: "Have it your way. We'll try and convict you." –  Peter Shor May 25 '11 at 23:29
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@FumbleFingers: Catherine Cuthbertson appears to have used try and for try to several times in her novels; the earliest instance I could find is in 1809, in Santo Sebastiano: ... but will you try and walk to my parish with me? –  Peter Shor May 26 '11 at 15:50

Interestingly, the "try to" stays intact and still makes sense when the sentence is turned into a question or into the past tense. The "try and" will not work in these cases.

Did you try to be a better person?

I tried to be a better person.

None of these will work with "try and". As Rimmer explained, the "try and" creates two actual verb phrases, whereas the "try to" construct is a single verb phrase.

No idea about when or where the "try and" originates, though.

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"Did you try and succeed?" : "I tried and succeeded". I don't see the problem. –  FumbleFingers May 26 '11 at 1:03
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If you pick your sentences carefully enough, then there won't be a problem or there will be a problem, depending on what the intent is. "Did you try and XXX a better person?" -- "Yes, I tried and XXX a better person!" - What word could replace the XXX in these two examples? That's where I see the difference. With "try to be" there's no difficulty, but with "try and XXX" you need to use a different verb altogether. It's not a problem, but "try and" and "try to" are not completely interchangeable. –  teylyn May 26 '11 at 8:36
    
I take your point that they're not completely interchangeable, but OP is interested in getting some kind of history/rationale for how the 'non-preferred' usage came about. And maybe by implication, why it persists (even among many 'careful speakers' when they're not actually writing) despite being universally reviled as 'ignorant' and 'incorrect'. –  FumbleFingers May 26 '11 at 14:09
    
@FumbleFingers "Did you try and succeed?" means "Did you try and did you succeed?" It doesn't mean "Did you try to succeed?" –  Juan Mendes Jun 8 '12 at 6:14

How would these be different or similar?

Go out there to win. Go out there and win.

Try to win. Try and win.

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Go out there to win seems more like a statement of intent, whereas Go out there and win seems more like encouragement. Context is the key, though. –  Matt Эллен May 26 '11 at 9:42
    
Excellent examples, which I think illustrate @Fraser Orr's hendiadys very succinctly. –  FumbleFingers May 26 '11 at 15:04

This usage of "and" is quite common across the US (although long ago a friend who had lived all her life in Manhattan once told me she had never heard it and it made no sense, which I had trouble believing).

In speech, it is an exact synonym for "try to", and does not at all mean that one is doing two different things (trying and then succeeding) as many posters (and a literal reading) suggest.

Teylyn's point that this construction cannot be used in the past tense or in a question is a good one, in particular for showing that "and" is definitely not being used as a conjunction, but this may need refinement. In particular, I think it can sound acceptable in a question, as in #6:

1.   He said he was gonna try an' fix his bike.
2. * Last I saw, he was tryin' an' fixin' his bike.
3. * Last I saw, he was tryin' an' fix his bike.
4. * I wonder if he tried 'n' fixed his bike?
5. * I wonder if he tried 'n' fix his bike?
6.   Didja try an' fix your bike?
7.   Well, try an' fix it!
8. * If he tries an' fix his bike, it'll only take a minute.
9. * If he tries an' fixes his bike, it'll only take a minute.
(starred ones sound wrong to me)

Since the infinitival "to" generally binds to the previous word rather than the following word (e.g. "gonna eat") (defying the latin-based grammar notion that "to" belongs to an indivisible unit, "the infinitive"), it seems that this use of "and" is similarly strongly tied to the verb "try", so "try and" is perhaps best thought of like "gonna" or "wanna". The inapplicability to third person singular (examples 8 and 9) reinforces the notion that it is a late-stage transformation based on final word form.

I'm not sure, but "try and" might also be semantically restricted as compared with "try to". "Try and" may imply that the activity of the following verb will be performed, but success is not guaranteed, while "try to" can also be used when the following verb is simply a goal or hope. On this theory, the following would not be ok (they sounded odd to me at first, but the more I repeat them to myself, the more ok they sound, so I'm not so sure about this anymore).

10. • He said he was gonna try an' get a promotion.
11. • He said he was gonna try an' get out early for good behavior.
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10 and 11 sound perfectly natural to me. They're the same as Try and catch me! w.r.t. the issue you raise about them, AFAICT. –  msh210 May 26 '11 at 17:06

I strongly favour "try to" where it is synonymous with "attempt to". I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "attempt and ".

I am going to try to jump the Grand Canyon on a skateboard.

To my ear it is so much tidier than "try and", and none of my examples below would work with "try and", in my opinion.

It can be negated:

I am going to try not to plunge to my death.

The present participle can also be used:

I am trying to find a ramp long enough.

Also the perfect and future perfect tenses work:

I have tried to jump the Grand Canyon on a skateboard, and soon I will have tried to walk again after two months of reconstructive surgery..

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