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Is the phrase below correct?

I have tried to contact the customer without success.

Isn't it "I have tried to contact the customer unsuccessfully"?

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4 Answers

Both are bad. The first suggests you might have tried to fail, the second either

  • that you failed to try, ie. you wanted to try, but weren't able to try, or
  • that you tried to fail.

What I assume you want to say is that you tried (fair and square), but did not get through – the attempt was unsuccessful.

It would be better to write either:

Without success, I have tried to contact the customer

or

I have tried to contact the customer, but have had no success.

or

I have tried to contact the customer, but have been unsuccessful.

(thanks Daniel)

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Actually, they are the same. You could just as easily make the case that I tried to do X without success means you tried to fail. And I can't see that either of them can be interpreted as saying that you failed to try. They both start with "I have tried..." –  Daniel Jul 19 '12 at 2:08
    
You are quite right, silly of me to spot one, but not the other :) I have edited the post to fix the problem. –  Born2Smile Jul 19 '12 at 2:18
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But you still say that they both suggest "that you failed to try". Remember, they both start with "I have tried..." And I'm not sure you can justify using the label bad for them. They may be ambiguous to a pedant, but who would ever say "I have tried to do X unsuccessfully" and mean that they tried to fail? The original poster is asking whether they are grammatically correct (which they are) and presumably whether they make sense (which they do). I'm afraid I can't agree that they are "bad". –  Daniel Jul 19 '12 at 2:20
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"Without success I have tried to contact the customer" would be correct, but "I have tried to contact the customer without success" is ambiguous, it might mean "I have tried to 'contact the customer' without success" or "I have tried to 'contact the customer without success'", but indeed I have made another mistake.. shall edit. –  Born2Smile Jul 19 '12 at 2:26
    
But they are the same. Now you're back to making a distinction between them. They both say "I have tried..." Neither of them can mean I have failed to try. What I'm trying to say is: completely remove the contents of the first bullet. To be consistent, you have to say "They both suggest you might have tried to fail" and leave it at that. –  Daniel Jul 19 '12 at 2:32
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Part of the ambiguity of your sentence (as mentioned in the answers from Daniel and Born2Smile) could be avoided by rearranging it slightly:

I have tried, without success, to contact the customer.

The subordinate clause "without success" could then be replaced by "unsuccessfully" without changing the meaning of the sentence, and it would be clear that the lack of success pertains to your attempt to contact the customer, not to the customer.

Personally, I fail to see how one can read either of your sentences (or my modified example for that matter) to mean that you have "tried to fail", since the adverb "unsuccessful" (or the adverbial clause "without success") clearly pertains to the verb "to try".

So, to answer your original question, neither of your sentences is incorrect, but some slight ambiguity of your first one could be overcome by rephrasing/rearranging it slightly.

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They are both correct. Unsuccessfully is an adverb which means the same thing as the prepositional phrase without success.

However, as Born2Smile points out, they could possibly be construed to mean "I have tried to be unsuccessful in contacting the customer". To avoid this very slight confusion, you could say I have unsuccessfully tried to contact the customer or I have tried to contact the customer, but have been unsuccessful.

Google shows that "tried unsuccessfully to contact him" has 205 results, "tried to contact him unsuccessfully" has 54 hits, while "tried to contact him, but was unsuccessful" has only 22.

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How about "I have tried to contact the customer without successfully" and "I have tried to contact the customer without successfull" ? –  Thiago Gabriel Leite Ferreira Jul 19 '12 at 2:01
    
Those are both wrong. Successful and successfully are not nouns, though success is; and a noun must come after the word without. –  Daniel Jul 19 '12 at 2:05
    
I prefer: "I have unsuccessfully tried to contact the customer." –  GEdgar Jul 19 '12 at 3:00
    
@GEdgar Yes; that's better. I edited my suggestions, and found by googling that it is the most common of the options so far. –  Daniel Jul 19 '12 at 14:30
    
doesn't that get dangerously close to 'to boldly go'? –  SF. Jul 20 '12 at 10:04
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To me, both sound incorrect.

'unsuccessfully' and 'without success' both mean the same and can be interchangeably used in most scenarios.

However, "I have tried to contact the customer without success" or "I have tried to contact the customer unsuccessfully" both imply your attempt (try) was without success/unsuccessful, whereas, what you want to convey is that you had tried to contact the customer, and were unsuccessful at contacting, not trying.

I would say: "I tried to contact the customer but was unsuccessful". Or, if you are not too attached with success (pun unintended), "I tried to contact the customer but couldn't".

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