Usage of "try to" vs. "try and"

EdythAldora

New Member
I did a quick whiz-thru of the digital text, and I found 18 "try and" and 25 "try to." I don't see any particular pattern of speaker or context, but statistics aren't my thing. I made a spreadsheet, though. It doesn't look like .xlsx is a supported file type for attaching, but I can email it.
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
"...to try to..."
FOTR

"I am afraid we shall have to try to get one pony at least."

He knew of nothing that would prevent them from crossing as easily as he had done; and he felt that it was useless to try to escape over the long uncertain path from the Ford to the edge of Rivendell, if once the Riders crossed.


TTT
(none)

ROTK
Though if an enemy were so rash as to try to enter that land secretly, then it was also a last unsleeping guard against any that might pass the vigilance of Morgul and of Shelob.

"...to try and..."
FOTR

"Why, this is the Stock-brook!" said Pippin. "If we are going to try and get back on to our course, we must cross at once and bear right."

"I was thinking so," said Frodo. "But we have got to try and get there; and it won’t be done by sitting and thinking."

"Not far from this tunnel there is, or was for a long time, the beginning of quite a broad path leading to the Bonfire Glade, and then on more or less in our direction, east and a little north. That is the path I am going to try and find."

"I am not going to try and guess," said Frodo smiling.

"It would have been useless in any case to try and win over the honest Radagast to treachery."

"I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door."

"We might make him useful. But if I cannot, we shall have to try and lose him. He is very dangerous."


TTT
"The oldest were planted by the Ents to try and please the Entwives; but they looked at them and smiled and said that they knew where whiter blossom and richer fruit were growing."

"And if we’re going to try and get down, we had better try at once. It’s getting dark early. I think there’s a storm coming."

"It isn’t funny, O no! Not amusing. It’s not sense to try and get into Mordor at all. But if master says
I must go or I will go, then he must try some way."

"Do not tie their hands. They will give their word not to try and see."


ROTK
It was not enough for him to find his master, he had still to try and save him.

"He’s a prisoner in Bag End now, I expect, and very frightened. We ought to try and rescue him."


--------------------

I'm not sure about any specific patterns, but I did notice that of the "to try to" instances, only one is spoken by a character, whereas with "to try and", all are spoken except one instance.
 

Eliza

Member
I was fascinated by this discussion, because I don't think I realized that "try and" would be unusual in some contexts. I've spent the largest portion of my life in western Canada, and to me it feels most natural to use "try and" in a casual context. "Try to" feels more "correct," but ever so slightly stilted -- a bit elevated or formal.

To give a couple examples: if I were writing an academic paper, I would certainly use "try to." If I were writing a semi-formal email to my boss (a scheduled project update, for example), I might start typing "try and," then catch myself and consciously decide to use "try to," but it's not the kind of thing I'd proofread for. If I were writing a quick email or chat message to a coworker, I'd probably use "try and" and think nothing of it. When speaking, I think I'd have to concentrate to use "try to," unless I were already putting on a consciously formal style. Realistically, the closest phonetic approximation of typical usage might sounds something like "I'm gonna try 'n' [insert verb here]."

I don't know if this is a British Commonwealth thing, a Canadian thing, a western Canadian thing, or a "person who grew up in Canada and the US and grew up on British literature" thing, but the hypothesis that seemed to emerge in the episode -- that "try and" is common and more colloquial than "try to" -- rang very true to me. I'd be curious to hear any observations on usage in other parts of the world.

Thanks for a fun discussion that probably wouldn't get much traction elsewhere in my life. :)
 

EdythAldora

New Member
Further breakdown:

Try and:

Faramir 1
Frodo 5
Gandalf 3
Gollum 1
Merry 1
Narrator 1
Pippin 2
Sam Gamgee 1
Shagrat 1
Treebeard 1

Try to:

Aragorn 1
Faramir 1
Gandalf 4
Gollum 2
Merry 4
Merry (probably) 1
Narrator 4
Ruffian 1
Sam Gamgee 4
Strider 2
 
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Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Oooh! Interesting that the Narrator uses "try and" once. Where is that, in a very early chapter? (When the style was still like that of The Hobbit)
 

EdythAldora

New Member
"It was not enough for him to find his master, he had still to try and save him. He kissed Frodo’s forehead." From "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Having looked through the instances myself, it seems to me that 'try and' is used in situations where the speaker is fairly certain of a successful outcome, even when they are later proven wrong.
e.g.
A shortcut to mushrooms‘Why, this is the Stock-brook!’ said Pippin. ‘If we are going to try and get back on to our course, we must cross at once and bear right.’
A shortcut to mushrooms‘I was thinking so,’ said Frodo. ‘But we have got to try and get there; and it won’t be done by sitting and thinking.
The Old forestThat is the path I am going to try and find.’

On the other hand 'try to' seems to be used where the speaker is less certain of a successful outcome, even when they are later proven wrong.
A shortcut to MushroomsI am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said.
A Conspiracy UnmaskedEven in the daylight they would try to keep them out, I think, at any rate until they got a message through to the Master of the Hall
A Knife in the DarkI am afraid we shall have to try to get one pony at least.
Flight to the Fordand he felt that it was useless to try to escape over the long uncertain path from the Ford to the edge of Rivendell
 

Ash Nazg

New Member
Having looked through the instances myself, it seems to me that 'try and' is used in situations where the speaker is fairly certain of a successful outcome, even when they are later proven wrong.
e.g.
A shortcut to mushrooms‘Why, this is the Stock-brook!’ said Pippin. ‘If we are going to try and get back on to our course, we must cross at once and bear right.’
A shortcut to mushrooms‘I was thinking so,’ said Frodo. ‘But we have got to try and get there; and it won’t be done by sitting and thinking.
The Old forestThat is the path I am going to try and find.’

On the other hand 'try to' seems to be used where the speaker is less certain of a successful outcome, even when they are later proven wrong.
A shortcut to MushroomsI am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said.
A Conspiracy UnmaskedEven in the daylight they would try to keep them out, I think, at any rate until they got a message through to the Master of the Hall
A Knife in the DarkI am afraid we shall have to try to get one pony at least.
Flight to the Fordand he felt that it was useless to try to escape over the long uncertain path from the Ford to the edge of Rivendell
Do we think that this is consistent with the idea that, in general, "to try to" is more formal, and "to try and" is more colloquial, as others have suggested? (And which is also my understanding, being British myself). Perhaps characters in more desperate situations tend more towards formality in their speech patterns?
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
Having looked through the instances myself, it seems to me that 'try and' is used in situations where the speaker is fairly certain of a successful outcome, even when they are later proven wrong.
e.g.
A shortcut to mushrooms‘Why, this is the Stock-brook!’ said Pippin. ‘If we are going to try and get back on to our course, we must cross at once and bear right.’
A shortcut to mushrooms‘I was thinking so,’ said Frodo. ‘But we have got to try and get there; and it won’t be done by sitting and thinking.
The Old forestThat is the path I am going to try and find.’

On the other hand 'try to' seems to be used where the speaker is less certain of a successful outcome, even when they are later proven wrong.
A shortcut to MushroomsI am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said.
A Conspiracy UnmaskedEven in the daylight they would try to keep them out, I think, at any rate until they got a message through to the Master of the Hall
A Knife in the DarkI am afraid we shall have to try to get one pony at least.
Flight to the Fordand he felt that it was useless to try to escape over the long uncertain path from the Ford to the edge of Rivendell
It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure if it holds. For one thing, not all the cases fit (e.g. "It would have been useless in any case to try and win over the honest Radagast to treachery.", where the speaker is not only doubtful of success, but certain of failure). Furthermore, in many of the examples, I'm not sure we can clearly know how certain the speaker is of a successful outcome. Indeed, the fact that they say they will try and/to do something rather than saying that they'll do it seems to indicate some amount of doubt in most any instance.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Do we think that this is consistent with the idea that, in general, "to try to" is more formal, and "to try and" is more colloquial, as others have suggested? (And which is also my understanding, being British myself). Perhaps characters in more desperate situations tend more towards formality in their speech patterns?
In general usage I can see some support for that, but within this text I don’t see that.

Equally, there are times where they carry a different meaning:
‘try and fail’ can convey a sense of an attempt to achieve that ends in failure.
‘try to fail’ indicates an intention to fail before the attempt is made, and that the attempt is actually a feint.
It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure if it holds. For one thing, not all the cases fit (e.g. "It would have been useless in any case to try and win over the honest Radagast to treachery.", where the speaker is not only doubtful of success, but certain of failure). Furthermore, in many of the examples, I'm not sure we can clearly know how certain the speaker is of a successful outcome. Indeed, the fact that they say they will try and/to do something rather than saying that they'll do it seems to indicate some amount of doubt in most any instance.
I agree that it doesn’t fit with the case you highlight. Perhaps I should have said the actor in each case rather than the speaker. In that particular case Gandalf is providing his assessment of the likelihood of success of such an attempt, but anyone making such an attempt would have to be fairly certain of success before risking it, given the potential consequences of a failed attempt.

You might also note that ‘fairly certain’ is not the same as ‘absolutely certain’. So while there might still be a small amount of doubt associated with a ‘try and’ case, there always seems to be a greater amount of doubt associated with the ‘try to’ case.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Fascinating discussion on a very subtle distinction in usage... Might not the "try and" construction in addition to indicating dubious probability of outcome (and "try to" indicating higher probability of outcome) might there also be a factor of the resoluteness of the speaker?... "Try to" being more formal, it might indicate a greater sense of consciousness of/attention to formality, and thus a higher level of determination and effort? Any one else see that pattern, or am I over reading into these instances?
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Sometimes short cuts make long delays, someone once said!! ;) And someone else said, It's shorter to just take the long way round...
 
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Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
there are times where they carry a different meaning:
‘try and fail’ can convey a sense of an attempt to achieve that ends in failure.
‘try to fail’ indicates an intention to fail before the attempt is made, and that the attempt is actually a feint.
I'm not sure this is relevant to the discussion of "try and" vs. "try to" (though fascinating, of course). It feels a bit like a "drive on the parkway and park on the driveway" situation to me...
Also, "try to fail" is almost a double-negative, and we don't want to risk failing to recognize just how tricky those can be.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Also, "try to fail" is almost a double-negative, and we don't want to risk failing to recognize just how tricky those can be.
Agreed; I was simply pointing out that there is more to this than formality vs. colloquialism.

Given Tolkien's determined resistance to the 'corrections' applied by various editors it is clear that this is not a question of 'is there a significance?' but rather 'what is the significance?'

As there is a fairly wide dispersal of 'try to' and 'try and' across characters and situations, with some characters using both, I looked into the circumstances surrounding those uses.

If anyone can provide a more compelling rationale for the different usage than confidence of the speaker (or actor) in the outcome of the attempt I'd like to hear it. So far I've not heard a better theory, just dissatisfaction with my theory.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
It also gets weird when you change tenses.

"He was trying to reach the tall shelf."

"He was trying and... reaching(?) the tall shelf."
 
So I'm very late to this discussion and we probably don't want to rehash this.
But I was reading through Letters the other day and came across this passage in letter 148 (about misprints in the LOTR Vol I, to Katherine Farrer dated 7 August 1954):
"Jarrold's appear to have a highly educated pedant as a chief proof-reader, and they started correcting my English without reference to me: elfin for elven; farther for further; try to say for try and say and so on." [bold emphasis mine, italics in original]
This seems like clear-cut evidence that Tolkien was deliberate in his choices for when to do try to say vs. try and say and was specifically aware of differences. However, this makes me wonder if maybe the variation in the text is due to editors correcting in places which would obscure the pattern?

I apologize if somebody had brought this up already but I didn't remember this letter mentioned before.
 

ruth barratt

Active Member
I'm only just catching up and I don't think I ever use try to but always try and. I don't know if this is Derbyshire thing (being were I'm from) or if I'm just a bit odd
 
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