â€œWrong. adj. contrary to fact, reason, some set standard, etc.; incorrect; inaccurate; false.â€
Of all the words I deal with as a grammar columnist, â€œwrongâ€ is the one I keep coming back to. It's the standard by which all the other words and phrases are judged. And it's the one word I can't make peace with.
That's because about nine out of 10 reader e-mails I receive hinge on the idea of wrongness. And it's an idea that, usually, I just can't nail down for them.
Take for example an e-mail I got from Jim in Burbank. Jim wanted to know about â€œtry and.â€ He had long ago learned that â€œtry andâ€ as a substitute for â€œtry toâ€ is wrong. Yet he notices â€œtry andâ€ in print all the time, including in Los Angeles' major newspaper. â€œI see it in The Times, so maybe it is correct,â€ he wrote.
Jim was hoping for a clear ruling on the rightness or wrongness of â€œtry and.â€ And for all the usage guides and grammar books and other resources on my shelf, I let him down. The best I could tell him was this: â€œtry andâ€ for â€œtry toâ€ is ungrammatical. But that doesn't mean it's wrong.
Let's look at the ungrammatical part first. â€œTry toâ€ is usually part of a construction like â€œI try to help.â€ In constructions like this, â€œtryâ€ is a transitive verb. That means it takes an object. The object of a transitive verb can be a noun, â€œEmma tried broccoli. Emma wants broccoli. Emma hates broccoli.â€
Or it can be a whole clause, including an infinitive clause. â€œEmma tried to remember. Emma wants to remember. Emma hates to remember.â€
Not every structure that looks like this works like this. But for now, we're concerned only with the transitive-verb-plus-infinitive structure.
So now we can understand the grammar of the sentence â€œI try to explain.â€ But what does that tell us about â€œI try and explainâ€? The conjunction â€œandâ€ isn't used to form infinitives. Only â€œtoâ€ does that job. So â€œtry and explainâ€ is not grammatical.
Be warned, though, that in different situations, â€œtry andâ€ can be grammatical. Just as you can say â€œThe Smiths dance and sing,â€ you can say â€œThe Smiths try and fail.â€ That's different because â€œtry and failâ€ are two separate actions. This is called a coordinated verb because it's connected with the coordinating conjunction â€œand.â€ That's different from â€œtry to explain,â€ in which the two verbs work together to create a single action.
So we know for sure that â€œtry and explainâ€ is ungrammatical. But that doesn't mean it's wrong? No, because in language we have things called idioms. â€œIdiom: a phrase, construction or expression that is recognized as a unit in the usage of a given language and either differs from the usual syntactic patterns or has a meaning that differs from the literal meaning of its parts taken together.â€
In other words, not all constructions need to fit in with the mechanical analysis we call grammar. If they did, we wouldn't have â€œthrow upâ€ or â€œlet downâ€ or even â€œgood night.â€ So â€œtry andâ€ is not wrong. But does that mean it's hunky dory? Not exactly.
â€œThe careful writer will cling to 'try to' as the proper construction in the overwhelming number of situations,â€ writes Theodore M. Bernstein in â€œThe Careful Writer.â€
Yes, the word â€œwrongâ€ often lets me down. But I think I found a replacement â€” â€œunwise.â€ There's a word we grammar-types can definitely rely on. And it definitely applies to â€œtry and.â€
Get in touch JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer and author of â€œGrammar Snobs Are Great Big Meaniesâ€ and â€œMortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs â€” Even If You're Right.â€ She may be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.