Malapropism Monday, Week 5

It’s Monday again! Exciting, right? For today’s Malapropism Monday I’d like to bring up yet another writing and speech pattern that bugs me! I know you’re dying to find out about it.

Today’s topic is the use of “try and ____” vs. “try to ____.” Did you know that these are not interchangeable? People often say “try and ____” when they should say “try to ____.” Or, at least in my opinion, they should…

There are differing opinions as to whether “try and” is acceptable in place of “try to,” but my opinion is that the two simply have different meanings, though often the differing meaning is nuanced and subtle.

For example, “I need to try and learn all the Chinese characters commonly used in Japanese” does not mean the same as “I need to try to learn all the Chinese characters commonly used in Japanese.”

In the first sentence, the and implies that I haven’t been trying and that if I try, I can learn the characters. There are two actions I need to undertake: trying and learning. I may try, try, try, and subsequently fail in the end.

In contrast, the second sentence doesn’t imply that I haven’t been trying or that if I try I can accomplish my goal. There’s just one action there: trying to learn. I need to make the attempt to learn.

As someone who has studied Spanish and French, “try and” sounds incorrect in place of “try to” because it replaces the “to” (that makes the verb that follows infinitive) with “and.” English infinitives are usually made up of two words: “to” plus the verb — to do, to see, to eat, to know. In Spanish and French, infinitive verbs are only one word.

In Spanish, the verbs I just listed would be hacer, ver, comer, saber. Now, if you’re trying to emphasize that there are two actions taking place — trying and (verb)-ing — then no problem! Here’s a site that discusses infinitives in more detail, but I noticed a few typos on the page. Hmm, maybe it could be fodder for tomorrow’s post?

My daughter needs to try and learn her multiplication tables because soon they’ll be learning division in school. She’s been a bit lazy about it, so she needs to try harder so she’ll finally learn. She’s trying to learn multiplication by using a special workbook and these learning toys called Wrap-Ups. True story, and good learning tools, by the way! Can you see the slight difference in meaning between the two sentences? In the first sentence, she’s trying and (hopefully) learning. In the second, she’s trying a certain method.

This page has an interesting discussion of the topic. Unlike the advice I’d give about most websites — never read the comments! — the comments on this article are pretty insightful.

Overall, though, I agree most with Grammar Girl’s take on the subject on this page. Someone agrees with me that unless you’re trying to communicate that subtle nuance described above, it just doesn’t sound right! I always have liked Grammar Girl…

So that’s it for today! What do you think? What’s your language pet peeve? I’d love any topic suggestions for the blog.

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3 thoughts on “Malapropism Monday, Week 5

    • leethelinguist says:

      Thanks, Hilary! I’m learning a lot as well because I do research for every post. Please let me know if you have any topic requests. I’m also open to guest posts and interviews.

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