I understand the phrase "try as I might..." to mean "I'm trying very hard and still..." and I'm comfortable using it in the present tense.

However, I don't understand the grammar of the phrase and therefore cannot really decide how to use it in the past tense. Specifically, I am wondering how to say the equivalent of "I was trying very hard and still..."

Is it "try as I did" or does it just not change at all: "try as I might"?

  • 1
    It cannot be explained grammatically. It is an idiom. Try as I might, I couldn't persuade him = No matter how hard I tried, he couldn't be persuaded.
    – WS2
    Oct 9, 2015 at 16:05
  • It should be noted that try as I might is in the past tense; try as I may is in the present.
    – Anonym
    Oct 9, 2015 at 17:06
  • Also, here are some other examples of the same construction: Deny it who will (even if anyone denies it, it's still true); be that as it may (even if that's true, so is the following). Deny it who would and be that as it might are the past-tense forms.
    – Anonym
    Oct 9, 2015 at 17:12
  • Today this is a frozen idiom. But was might originally in the subjunctive mood here? Oct 9, 2015 at 17:19
  • @WS2 It can be explained grammatically. It is all subjunctive thing.
    – user140086
    Oct 9, 2015 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


Try as someone might is a set phrase that is used in its 'fixed form' also in the past tense:

  • used for saying that someone is making a very great effort but still cannot do something
    • Try as he might, he could not forget.

(MacMillan Dict)

The expression exists also in the less common form of:

Try as I may:

  • Cliché a phrase that introduces an expression of regret or failure.
    • Bill: Try as I may, I cannot get this thing put together right. Andy: Did you read the instructions? Rachel: Wow! This place is a mess! Mother: Try as I might, I can't get Andrew to clean up after himself.

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)

Ngram : try as I/he/she/they might

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