Question: I’ve always been puzzled by people who say or write, “Try and do something.” Shouldn’t it be “Try to do something?” I think “try and” implies if you try something, it will definitely be done.
—Marilyn M. —
I think what we have here is a failure to comprehend the vernacular of the peasantry. (I’ve always wanted to say that!) Often, people say things that technically are not correct. “Try and do” is one of these things. No, it isn’t exactly proper grammar, anymore than saying “I might could do” is proper grammar (but don’t tell any good Southerner that!).
Let’s take this sentence as an example: “I will try and climb the rock wall at the gym.” “Try and climb” literally means you will not only attempt to scale the rock wall, you will succeed in doing it. But when we hear people say this, we don’t assume that is their meaning. We know they mean they will make an attempt at climbing the rock wall; whether they succeed or not is another matter.
When writing such sentences, I suggest letting your character’s personality, education level, and where said character lives guide you. A well-educated Southerner very well might say, “I might could climb the rock wall at the gym.” A well-educated Chicagoan would never utter those words! If your character is just your average Joe or Jane, having a conversation with their best friend, or mother, let them say “Try and do.” People talk in casual English in casual situations; being too proper makes dialogue sound stilted. It’s no different from letting them occasionally say “Yeah” instead of “Yes,” or utter “Uh-huh.”
Now, if your characters are in a more formal situation, you should go for the proper English. Have you ever watched Judge Judy on TV? You know what she says to defendants who utter “Uh-huh” when she asks them a question? It isn’t pretty.
As for people who “Try and do” things in real-life conversation, I suggest keeping quiet and saying nothing. If you correct them, they may decide never to try at all. And not trying might could be the biggest tragedy of them all.
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“Ask the Editor” is a new, weekly feature on Smoky Talks …. Smoky welcomes all questions about editing and writing issues. If you have a question you’d like her to answer, email her at SmokyZeidel@gmail.com.
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