"Try And" or "Try To"?

Our Story
The Quick Answer
If you're writing something formal, use "try to."

If you're writing something informal, you can safely use "try to" or "try and" (i.e., you can go with whichever one sounds natural to you).
try to or try and?

"Try And" or "Try To"?

Many writers question their natural inclination to use "try and" instead of "try to." In fact, both versions are acceptable, but "try to" is definitely the better option for a formal document.

The phrase "try and" is a colloquialism (a familiar expression used mostly in informal speech). Some even classify it as an idiom (a commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words). Classifying "try and" as either a colloquialism or an idiom removes the need to defend it from a grammatical perspective. In essence, supporters of "try and" do not claim it is grammatical but simply that it's an acceptable term through common usage.

A Sense of Positivity with "Try And"

"Try and" is definitely more informal, but, for many, it sounds more natural. As a result, "try and" carries a sense of positivity that "try to" lacks. In other words, "try and" carries a message with a subtle connotation of a trait like friendship, luck, or assurance. "Try to" is more neutral. This is not a well-recognized distinction between the two terms, but it is touched upon by most of the leading grammar references.

If this subtle sense of positivity and the naturalness of "try and" outweigh the risk that some grammarians might sneer at you, then go for "try and." If you don't want to take this risk or you need to be formal, use "try to."

Why Is "Try To" Grammatical?

Let's dissect the following sentence:
  • We try to imagine the waves.
  • (In this sentence "to imagine the waves" is an infinitive phrase. It is functioning as a noun. More specifically, it is the direct object of the verb "to try." This sentence is perfectly grammatical.)

Is "Try And" Ungrammatical?

So, is "try and" ungrammatical? Well, mostly yes, but sometimes no. It's complicated.

Let's dissect this sentence:
  • We try and imagine the waves.
  • (From a classic structural perspective, this sentence has two finite verbs. (In other words, it has a compound predicate.) This means the subject ("We") is performing two verbs: "to try" and "to imagine." If you had two actions in mind, then this sentence would be perfectly grammatical. The key point, however, is that users of "try and" - usually - are not describing two actions. They're usually describing one.)
So, when is it one action, and when is it two actions? This is quite a subtle point. Look at these perfectly grammatical sentences. As these feature two actions, the use of "try and" is correct.
  • Go and ask for help.
  • (This could have been written "You must go, and you must ask for help." This proves it is two actions.)
  • Come and see the tattooed man.
  • (This could have been written "Come over here and then see the tattooed man." This proves it is two actions.)
  • Stop and chat for a while.
  • (This could have been written "Stop with me and chat for a while." This proves it is two actions.)
So, as we've seen, "try and" is grammatical when it refers to two actions. When it refers to one, it is ungrammatical, albeit colloquially acceptable.

Let's nail this point. Look at these three examples:

Example 1 (Two actions with "try and")
  • I will try and win.
  • (This sentence is two actions. It is perfectly grammatical. In other words, it means the same as "I will try, and I will win.")
Example 2 (One action with "try to")
  • I will try to win.
  • (This sentence is grammatical. It means the same as "I will try winning.")
Example 3 (One action with "try and")
  • I will try and win. (formally) (colloquially)
  • (This sentence, which also means the same as "I will try winning," is ungrammatical. It is, however, colloquially acceptable.)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

His/her or their? Is data singular or plural?
Than me or than I?