Is there any difference in meaning? Or are they pretty much always interchangeable? ESL students are having trouble understanding when to use which expression. Thank you.
As is always the case, context makes a difference in English. However here is an explanation that I hope will be useful..
"I tried closing my eyes" ---> This usually signals an action that was actually carried out, e.g.
I was at the dentist's; her lamp was very bright in my face. I tried closing my eyes but it was still uncomfortable. I asked her if she could adjust it.
"I tried to close my eyes" ---> This usually implies that the action was unsuccessful, e.g.
The scene that unfolded before me was dreadful. I tried to close my eyes but I simply could not - I was transfixed.
Here's an example that shows the difference more clearly.
"The noise was terrible. I tried closing the door; I tried closing the windows; I tried using earplugs but nothing helped."
"The noise was terrible. I tried to close the door but it was stuck so I had to leave it open.
It is not easy to make the subtle differerence clear between to try to do and to try doing ( to do/doing stands for any infinitive or gerund).
"to try to do" is the normal construction meaning to attempt to do.
to try doing: Longman DCE has the heading "test/use". Longman tries to explain by saying: to do or use something for a short while to discover if it is suitable, successful, enjoyable etc.
They decided they would try living in America for a while.
Try logging off and logging on again.
Maybe it helps to say that "to try doing" is equivalent to "see if you can succeed in logging off and on again". Or: Try it with logging off and on.
As to the initial question I think the gerund construction is perferable. The closing of the eyes was tested, but it was no help. The light was still irritating.