"Try and do" versus "Try to do"

Just an English language usage question from a non-native speaker. If you want to encourage someone to do make an attempt at a particular activity, you might say “Try to do it.” However, I’ve also heard the phrase “Try and do it.”

Are both variants equally idiomatic? Do they differ in meaning and the message they convey? My gut feeling would prefer “Try to do” - the imperative is “try”, and “to do” would be an infinitive that’s subordinated to “try” and expresses what it is that the person is supposed to try. “Try and do it” sounds like the trying and the doing are two separate and distinct elements within the same phrase. So maybe “Try and do” has a stronger implication that the attempt will be successful?

They’re both interchangeable to me.

However, I would not say “Do try to…” or “Do subscribe to”, or “Do hit the notification bell” or whatever, which seems common outside of the U.S. but just weird to my ears.

I think a lot of people say “Try and do it” when they mean “Try to do it.” You could probably come up with a situation where the former fits but it’s not a common thing.

Another: the verb go with and. You could say, “He bought her a car.” Some will say “He went and bought her a car.” It doesn’t really add to the sentence; the speaker is probably going for some drama. Variation: rather than go, some use up. “He up and bought her a car.” I guess they mean he stood up…it was sudden?

My verdict is that you’re correct to wonder. Use “try to do” but understand that natives don’t always say things the correct way.

I’ll leave you with a strange one. I’m originally from a place in the Midwest. The nearest big city would be Chicago. Back there I used to hear the verb take with and. If you spend time with people who use the expression you’ll hear times like your OP, where it could make sense:

“He fixed the car” vs. “He took and fixed the car.” The second sentence seems to indicate that he had to fetch it before he could fix it.

The same person would say, “He baked a cake” vs. “He took and baked a cake.” He took some initiative? He took a decision? Took the ingredients from the cupboard?

I want you to try to do it, and then do it. It’s perfectly clear.

Except I don’t think that’s how it’s usually used, or at least not how I’ve heard it used. I think I’ve only ever encountered “try and do it” to mean exactly the same thing as “try to do it”. A single clause, not a combination of two separate clauses.

And actually, I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard “try and do it.” I think I’ve only ever heard “try’n do it.”

‘Try to’ is more formally correct, but ‘try and’ is used so often in spoken English that there isn’t any feeling of it being wrong.

The forms are equivalent for all practical purposes, despite some people trying to find subtle differences in meaning.

In formal writing ‘try to’ would be better, otherwise it doesn’t really matter.

I think you’re correct, I often don’t do things the usual way people do them.

And you’re also correct that it’s “Try’n do it.” That’s what people are saying, or were saying, it might have reached the point that “could of” has, replacing the contraction “could’ve”.

Merriam-Webster has a good article.

In summary: When try is used to mean “to make an attempt at” it’s often followed by an infinitive phrase, as in “try to explain.” A lot of people don’t like it when and appears in place of the to : “try and explain.” There is, however, nothing wrong with try and , and you should feel free to use it. It’s most at home in informal settings, but is not grammatically problematic and is in fact about the same age as (and is very possibly older than) try to .

Here’s another analysis. Bottom line is they almost always have the same meaning, but “try and” is considered somewhat more informal in American English. However “try and” is used more than “try to” in all contexts in British English, especially among younger speakers.

No, strictly speaking “try and do” is simply wrong, though so common that it’s accepted in informal English. There’s no place here for the conjunction “and”, because there’s nothing being connected. The concept being expressed is “trying to do something”.

I agree with those who say “try and do” doesn’t really make sense on a literal, word-by-word level, but it has come to be an idiom equivalent to “try to do.”

I think a similar example is people saying “learn to” when they really mean “learn how to.”

As noted in the Merriam-Webster article, the OED’s first citation for “try and” is from 1686 and the first citation for “try to” is from 1697.

Oh, c’mon. The actual dictionary says that it’s not grammatically problematic.

I checked two other dictionaries. Both said to use “try to” in formal settings, but neither said that “try and” was anything other than an informal usage. Not wrong, not ungrammatical, merely informal.

Idioms are absolutely fine English. While they are used only for effect in the most formal settings, they are perfectly acceptable everywhere else. English has spawned and incorporated idioms since forever.

Idioms’ worst drawback is their opaqueness to non-native speakers. The OP has an interesting (though overthought) parsing of the two terms that shows more awareness of English than most native speakers could manage, but he’s an exception, I would bet.

I tend to use the word “wrong” in an idiomatic way to mean “non-standard in formal English”. If everyone else can have idioms, then so can I. :wink:

And I did say “strictly”. There is no rational way to parse “try and do” within the rules of formal grammar. The fact that it’s very widely used is a different matter, and does give the usage considerable license.

I think that, generally, “try and do it” is a colloquial form of “try to do it.” But another way of looking at it is that “try and do it” could mean “try, and then do it.” “Try to do it,” on the other hand, could mean try, but not necessarily accomplish it.

Grump. Grump, grump, grump. Harrumph.

Yes, it’s not a non-grammatical form, in the formal sense, on its own. The structure is grammatical (in formal English), but I’d argue only with the second meaning you pointed out. We have analogous constructions like “stop and do it” or “go and do it,” so “try and do it” fits. But in the “try to do it” sense, I feel “try and do it” is an idiomatic construction, and more informal. But I can be persuaded (but see no need to, as I’m perfectly fine with it’s usage.)

Of course, “stop and do it” means “stop whatever you’re doing, and do this other thing”, and “go and do it” means “get thee hence and do this thing” – there are two actions here, appropriately connected by a conjunction. “Try and do it” superficially seems to fit the pattern, but really doesn’t because it lacks those two actions needing connection. But the similar pattern may explain the persistence in the language of “try and do it”. Also, it’s easier to say.

Well, I for one will never accept ‘Try and do it’ as formally proper English, except when I’m talking and sometimes writing it.

See the article I linked above. “Try and” is perfectly acceptable in formal contexts in British English. The American writer of the article got in trouble when she tried to “correct” that usage by a British writer.