Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Light in the Darkness XIV

Today's grammar blog is about another issue that has come up to bother me. I will try and explain.

Did you catch it? Did you see the error? No? Try and find it.

There it was again!

“Try and” is the problem.

Here is another example.


“Spock, try and scan for some life-forms on the planet.”

Putting it this way is likely to get a withering Spock eyebrow lift and a disdainful response.

“I can scan for life-forms, Captain, but what am I supposed to try to do?”

"You can start by not being a jackass."


“Spock, try to scan for some life-forms on the planet.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Why is “try and” incorrect? Unlike some expressions, such as “different than” (also usually considered incorrect), the reason “try and” is wrong is visible in the expression itself. What is Kirk asking Spock to do? He is asking him to “try” something and to “scan for life-forms”. If Kirk wanted Spock to make an attempt to scan for life-forms, then he had to, as in the second example, ask Spock to “try to” do it. Otherwise, Kirk is asking for Spock to take two actions, both making some sort of attempt, and scanning.

"I'm smirking, Spock, because you've got your phaser set to 'try'."

It is simple enough. If you want Spock to try, tell him so. If you want him to try to do something in particular, remember not to ask him to try in addition to that!

As for the “different than” mentioned above, that is a bit, well, different from the “try and” example. At some point in the early to mid-eighteenth century, “different from” became the primary expression, eclipsing “different than” (in American usage). Eventually, it became the only expression considered correct, and it is still the one recommended by, say, Strunk and White's Elements of Style. However, the reason for the change was merely fashion. There was nothing actually wrong or incorrect or nonsensical about the “different than” expression. Now, “different than” and, in British usage, “different to” are making a comeback. Still, “different from” is considered the most correct form, and if you are in doubt, use it.

"Hmmmm ... WWAD?"

Spock is different from McCoy in many important ways.

McCoy's plans are different than those of Kirk.

However, there is one thing to remember in using a “different from” construction. The two things being compared need to match. You need to make a parallel construction.
And apparently the new Vulcan death grip is different from the old one.*


The Klingons are different from the Romulan weapons.

Here we are comparing two things that are dissimilar, but we are not making any sort of statement about them that is of any use. Of course the Klingons, sentient beings, are different from the Romulan tools of destruction. (Notice that because I was making an illustrative comparison, despite their dissimilarity, that sentence was correct.)


The Klingon weapons are different from the Romulan weapons.

The Klingon honor code is different from the Vulcan devotion to logic.

Who cares? They both kill you horribly, from the inside out!

Both of those are correct. Both sentences are comparing things that can actually be usefully compared.

Until next time, keep your grammar candles burning!

*Bonus points if anyone can point out the error of this statement. :)


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