Are both try to save the file and try saving the file grammatically correct? If so, is there any difference in meaning?

  • Could you give some more explanation why you think there is anything ungrammatical in either sentence? If you don't think there is anything wrong, what is the purpose of your question? Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 16:09
  • @Matt Эллен: I've edited the Q because otherwise it's likely to get closed as General Reference. It seems to me if we downplay the "are they grammatical?" and focus on "what's the difference?", RiMMER's answer addresses a semantic distinction that might not be obvious to non-native speakers. And speaking for myself (I haven't thought about it deeply) it's not instantly obvious why that distinction is thus made. Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 16:52
  • 1
    possible duplicate of When should a verb be followed by a gerund instead of an infinitive? Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 19:13
  • Thank you for asking this question. I've had this question before and my English teacher once said that the first is correct while the second is not. I always thought it shouldn't be the case since I meet the latter in sentences. Now I get the nuance. Thanks!
    – afiqjohari
    Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 23:50
  • 2
    Despite the eloquent answers given below. I'm still confused. This +try + infinitive* and try + verb+ing always mixes me up.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 21:00

2 Answers 2


They're of course both grammatical, but there is a conventional meaning difference that may not be obvious, as there often is with a verb like try that takes both Equi infinitive and Equi gerund complements. Such available syntactic bandwidth is likely to get used for pragmatic purposes.

In this case, the gerund is the one without any special entailments — i.e, saying

1. He tried opening the door.

requires no special assumption by a listener — or at least is intended to sound that way — while in

2. He tried to open the door.

the infinitive complement (but not the gerund) is subject to the Gricean interpretation (i.e, an interpretation, predictable from Grice's Maxims), that, if one can only say truthfully
"He tried to open it" instead of just "He opened it", then one conversationally implicates
his failure in opening it.

So, in context, (1) above can continue with any of the following:

  • but it failed to open.
  • and it creaked loudly as it swung open.
  • and found that there was a body in the dining room.
  • and the door fell off.

but only the first one is appropriate as a continuation for (2).

  • 8
    The fourth (and the door fell off) might be ok with (2), right? It's a bit of a surprise ending, but isn't it consistent with the implicature that because he only tried to open the door, he fails at normal door-opening behavior?
    – aedia λ
    Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 18:39
  • Yeah, that could work. This is where our perception comes from, after all; expectations and their contact with reality. Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 19:07
  • 1
    Pardon me for fiddling with your text - I've no idea why the software wanted to number both items in the list as "1." (someone else will presumably know), but it stopped interfering when I made them both bold (it also leaves well alone if you drop the period after each digit). Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 19:11
  • 1
    +1. Would you please confirm if this post is what you meant by (Some people notice a small and subtle difference between the two grammatical sentences above, but it's not always discernible.) at www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/complmnt.html? Would it help to link this therein?
    – user50720
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 21:00

Strictly speaking, "try doing something" usually implies you should try doing it as it's expected to solve a certain problem. On the other hand, "try to do something" usually implies a sole challenge, not necessarily with any practical result.

For example:

A) To imply an expected solution to a problem:

Person A: It takes me too long to fall asleep. What should I do?
Person B: Try watching a movie before going to bed.

B) To imply a challenge:

Person A: I'm not afraid of you!
Person B: Well, try to hit me in the face and see what happens!

So, to directly answer your question, this is how your examples explain themselves:

Try to save the file: Try to do it and let's see if you're successful!
Try saving the file: Try doing it and let's see if it solves the problem at hand!

  • 7
    It looks to me like swapping any of your examples to another form makes little or no difference in meaning. In particular, the meanings you mention don't arise. What the utterances mean depends instead on context and tone. Which form a speaker chooses depends on locale, I think, rather than the putative differences you mentioned. Commented Mar 18, 2012 at 18:03
  • 3
    @Rimmer has made a useful semantic distinction, and while jwpat7 is right that the two grammatical forms are often interchnageable, there is a context in which only the gerund seems to work. If your friend has trouble sleeping and tells you: "I have tried taking a bath before going to bed", this clearly implies that she has indeed had a bath several times before retiring, but this has not been successful. "I have tried to take a bath before going to bed", on the other hand, implies (to me at least) that she intended to but did not succeed in taking a bath.
    – Shoe
    Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 14:31
  • 1
    @Richard Rodriguez What difference, if any, is there between: "This jar is tight. Can you try to open it?" and "This jar is tight. Can you try opening it?"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 23:52