Writing for Business

Aug 17 2012   7:15PM GMT

Another take on “try and” vs. “try to”

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

I love the Motivated Grammar blog. (Motto: Prescriptivism must die!)  If you’re ever looking for a contrary opinion on a grammatical issue, and especially a well-argued and research-supported contrary opinion, blogger Gabe Doyle is your boy.

I wasn’t particularly looking for a contrary opinion yesterday, when I was writing about “try and” vs. “try to.” As a matter of fact, when I found the post discussing “try and,” I noted it and then mostly ignored it. But I returned to it today and want to share it with you. The post is entitled “If everyone says it, it can’t be wrong.

Doyle quotes Erin Brenner:

The problem I have with Walsh’s reasoning is that try and is an idiom. There’s no point in trying to make sense of an idiom’s grammar; an idiom has its own unique (‘peculiar,’ says the American Heritage Dictionary) grammar. It doesn’t have to make literal sense.”

And goes on to say:

I agree with Brenner here. Sure, try and X doesn’t seem to make much sense.* But it doesn’t matter if it makes sense; if we’re trying to study language, we don’t get to say “I don’t understand this data” and throw it away. We’re stuck with the fact that people say and write try and X (the OED even offers an example from Paradise Regained, and Google Books has one from 1603) and it feels natural to most people.

Doyle says the same holds true for “I could care less,” another phrase that drives a lot of people around the bend. Funnily enough, my mom just cited it today as one of her pet peeves. Doyle points out that people know that people mean they don’t care when they say it, so it’s not worth getting worked up about.

I kind of like “I could care less,” although I may never have actually said it. I always hear it as an ironic statement, so actually emphasizing the total lack of caring rather than implying that there is some minimal amount of caring going on.

My stand on both phrases is that you should avoid them in any kind of formal writing. For casual writing, though, or in speech — well, I could care less. (And I know you know what I mean!)

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar



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