Try and Understand

Here’s another of my favourite grammar bugbears for you.

The verb “to try” always goes with another verb – ie the action being tried. For example, Sebastian is trying to walk, I’m trying to get by on insufficient sleep and you’re trying to understand this post. Often, the verb will be implied, but it’s still there.

“Are you coming tonight?”

“I’m going to try” [In other words, I’m going to try to come]

Now, here’s the rule. See that verb attached to the trying verb? See how it always starts “to…”? Well, that there is the infinitive. You’ll remember him, and the fact that he can’t be split (except when he can).

Just to be clear, try itself isn’t always used in the infinitive. It matches the subject: I try, you try, he/she/it tries etc; and the tense: I tried, I am trying, I have tried, and so on.

But the thing that is being tried, that’s the infinitive form. Or a gerund (a noun made out of a verb, like “swimming”, “eating” etc). What it NEVER is, is some made up form of the verb called “AND + [Infinitive minus the TO part]”. A couple of examples:

“I try TO BE clear” not “I try AND BE clear”

“You’ll try TO UNDERSTAND?” not “You’ll try AND UNDERSTAND?”

There are times when the word “and” follows part of the verb to try, but they are occasions when the thing being tried is implied, and the word “and” is followed by something else, often a none-infinitive verb, something else being done by the trier. Like:

“Are you eating?” “I’m trying [to eat is implied] and juggling the phone and a baby”

“Did he win the race?” “He tried and beat his personal best”

In these posts, I try to give you a way to remember these rules. This one is pretty simple, if the verb after “try” is the thing being tried, use TO + Infinitive; if it’s not, the verb should be the same part of speech as “to try” is in. Or remember this sentence:

If I haven’t explained this well, it is not that I tried to fail, but that I tried and failed.

[Last bit amended to hopefully clarify, thanks to my old school pal Katie for the crit!]

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Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

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