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Try me a river

By Curtis Honeycutt

Of course, they were gonna try and kill me. Do not try and bend the spoon. Thor, you gotta try and bottleneck that portal. I just quoted the movies Riddick, The Matrix and The Avengers, respectively. I could have used more than a thousand other movie quotes to illustrate the fact that the phrase “try and” is a fixture of popular culture and usage.

This begs the question: does that make “try and” okay? We certainly live in a post-proper society. No longer do we dine in the parlor or take tea on a doily on a regular basis. Does that mean rules don’t apply anymore? Does that mean grammar relativism is a slippery slope to the land of doofus textspeak chaos? Let’s pump the brakes for a second and examine “try and” and “try to.”

Usually, people say “try and” when they should technically say “try to.” I’m going to try to fix my turntable. I’m going to try and fix my turntable. In these two examples, “try to” is considered standard usage, while “try and” is informal or idiomatic usage that means “try to.” However, upon further examination, “try and” may communicate something different. If I “try and” fix my turntable (which is broken, by the way; I’m devastated), it implies that I will be successful in fixing it. I will try and pass my test. I will try and reboot the server. In other contexts, “try and” implies irony and suggests certain failure. “I’d like to see you try and stop me, Batman!”

I’ll go ahead and insert my caveat refrain: it’s best to avoid using “try and” in a formal context, unless you intend to use it in a literal sense. While filling out the form to nominate my writing on grammar usage for the Pulitzer Prize (thank you, by the way), opt for “try to,” as in: “Honeycutt will try to make grammar palatable through his use of attempted humor; whether he succeeds or not is up to what each reader finds chuckle-worthy.”

If you understand “try and” as an idiom (which is a type of figurative language), then go ahead and use it. After all, idioms aren’t meant to be taken literally. Technically, “try and” is not standard usage, but I can’t try and make you stop using it.

Curtis Honeycutt is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.

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