[Ads-l] _try to_ vs. _try and_

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Tue Nov 8 13:18:00 UTC 2016

Arnold is quite right to direct our attention to Merriam-Webster, which I had
already mentioned in my earlier post on this topic.  Obviously, I didn't make it
sufficiently plain that this should be consulted.

Unfortunately, exemplary as it is, M-W isn't quite the last word on this issue,
which is why I, after respectfully consulting Merriam-Webster, turned to Ngram.
 I have also been provided backchannel with a reference to a recent issue of
American Speech which deals with the issue in detail.

For a British take on the matter, one might consult Burchfield's New Fowler,
which I have sitting beside M-W on my shelves.  Burchfield is the descriptivist
revision of Fowler, and while shorter than M-W, one and a half columns to, as I
noted in my previous post, M-W's 2 1/2 pages, is more succinct.

Unfortunately, neither M-W, Burchfield, nor Arnold in his comments below clarify
the question as to whether, as well as the obvious register-difference between
the two phrasings, "try and" and "try to", there is *also* a semantic
distinction.  An historical view, looking at the evolution of the two terms,
would suggest that they are simply overlapping synonyms employed at different
times and in different contexts, and in the course of time in different

I'm not so sure.  I use both, but I'm not certain as to whether the choice
between them on my part is based on only socially contextual considerations, or
whether there's a semantic nuance involved on occasion.

Incidentally, as we're talking about sources, surely the obvious source when it
comes to this issue would be the OED, together with the MED, possibly also the
DSL?  Merriam-Webster and Burchfield draw on the OED for their exposition of the
historical dimension, and it would, I presume, provide a range of citations
relevant to the issue.

Robin Hamilton 

>     On 08 November 2016 at 12:08 "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> wrote:
>     discussion from Wilson Gray, Robin Hamilton, and now David Daniel, all
> starting this topic as if no one had ever considered it before.
>     PLEASE PLEASE start with the sources, in particular Merriam-Webster's
> Dictionary of English Usage, a volume everyone on this list ought to have
> (it's not at all expensive) and consult.
>     MWDEU has a substantial entry on _try and_. it's been common in print for
> nearly two centuries now, in both the UK and North America. yes, it's an idiom
> (but why is that somehow a count against it?). yes, it's often in alternation
> with _try to_ (but why would anyone claim that there should be no variant
> usages?). yes, it's more common in speech than in writing (but why should that
> somehow be a count against it?).
>     MWDEU's entry ends with this quote from Fowler 1926 -- yes, *that* Fowler,
> in *1926*:
>     It is an idiom that should be not discountenanced, but used when it comes
> natural.
>     there is probably no truth-functional difference between _try and_ and
> _try to_, but the two often differ in more subtle ways -- consequeces of the
> fact that _try to V_ is hypotactic (and connotes a close, tight relationship
> between the denotations of _try_ and V), while _try and_ is paratactic (and
> connotes a looser relationship between these denotations). and they tend to
> differ registrally.
>     if you don't like _try and_, don't use it; everyone has irrational
> prejudices, and you're entitled to yours. but don't piss on people -- LIKE ME
> -- who do use it; there's nothing wrong with us or with the way we talk..
>     arnold
>     ------------------------------------------------------------
>     The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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