Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Try TO vs. Try AND


Q. Could you comment on these two sentences:

• Please try and avoid excessive noise in the
• Please try to avoid excessive noise in the

I was taught that the second version is correct.
Nanette/Cheboygan, MI

A. Most grammarians will endorse your position, at least in formal writing or speechmaking. The tradition is that when the first verb is a command or a strong request
(the imperative mood), the verb that follows should be in the infinitive form (to + verb):

Try to avoid excessive noise.
Come to see us when you get a chance.
Be sure to get an application form on the way out.

However, in informal use, the word and often replaces the word to:

Try and avoid excessive noise.
Come and see us when you get a chance.
Be sure and get an application form on the way out.

Remember that grammar rules are arbitrary; they are not based on something inherent in the language, something that can never change. They are based on custom or style, realities that can and will change over long periods of time.

Think of grammar rules as temporary conventions that may work for a few generations, sometimes longer. The only reason they are useful is to ensure that we are all on the same page. When the page turns and new rules evolve, there is no problem, no violation of something sacred, as long as we still understand each other. Understanding is the point; grammatical conventions are merely a tool.

In practice, this means that the formal rule articulated above is not engraved in stone. Here’s an example from 1813 that breaks the rule. The writer is Jane Austen, one of the finest English stylists in the last two hundred years.

“Now I will try and write of something else.” [Letter, January 29, 1813]

Not even the Grammar Police will dare to arrest her for that.

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