Is the use of "trying to" in place of "wanting to" occurring nationwide or regionally? What is its prevalence and when did it start?

I'm in my late 20s and live in New England. In the past 2-3 years, I've noticed people starting to use this phrase. I've heard this in people from New England, Brooklyn, and Pennsylvania for scope. Here are some examples of how I've heard it, immediately followed with the response it invokes in me.

You trying to play golf after work?
^No, at this moment, I am not actively attempting to play golf.

You trying to grab some lunch?
^No, I am not actively trying to grab lunch, but I would like to get lunch.

Hey, I'm not trying to have a hangover tomorrow!
^Of course nobody would try to have a hangover tomorrow.

But in these instances, the speaker is not asking or declaring about an intentional attempt to do something; they are indicating a desire to do something.

This use just strikes me as odd.

  • Try to: want to: the slang dictionary has an entry from 2010. - onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/try-to
    – user66974
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:55
  • It's no US English per se, but more colloquial, maybe strictly AAVE.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 13:20
  • @DanBron What's "AAVE"?
    – TrevorD
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 18:43
  • @TrevorD African-American Vernacular English
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 18:44
  • "Are you trying to have a hangover?" would be asked in a situation where the questionee's behavior is such that a hangover would appear likely. It does not imply conscious intent. The use of the idiom in this fashion goes back at least 50 years.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


I am American, and I experience a lot of diverse usage, American and other varieties of English. Should I be asked one of the stated questions, I would not have a sense of simple want.
Those questions imply want and a bit more. To me they would also imply means and capability.
You trying to play golf after work? would imply to me: "Do you have things arranged so you can play golf after work?" I think the examples cited are just simple ways of asking a comprehensive question, and probably more urban than not. Rural folks might ask the same with something like "You lookin' to play golf after work?", or, "Can you see to play golf after work?"
I may be advantaged by having used English, and, having it used on me, for quite a few decades. I just do not see this usage of the verb to try as being very odd. I have experienced much odder usage. It is possible the cited examples were queries only as to desire or want but I think the use of to try suggests more. It certainly does to me.
The time, I think, to worry about usage is when no sense can be made of it by the listener.

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