Take for example an e-mail I got from Jim in Burbank. Jim wanted to know about “try and.” He had long ago learned that “try and” as a substitute for “try to” is wrong. Yet he notices “try and” in print all the time, including in Los Angeles’ major newspaper. “I see it in The Times, so maybe it is correct,” he wrote.
Jim was hoping for a clear ruling on the rightness or wrongness of “try and.” 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: “try and” for “try to” is ungrammatical. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Let’s look at the ungrammatical part first. “Try to” is usually part of a construction like “I try to help.” In constructions like this, “try” is a transitive verb. That means it takes an object. The object of a transitive verb can be a noun, “Emma tried broccoli. Emma wants broccoli. Emma hates broccoli.”
Or it can be a whole clause, including an infinitive clause. “Emma tried to remember. Emma wants to remember. Emma hates to remember.”
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 “I try to explain.” But what does that tell us about “I try and explain”? The conjunction “and” isn’t used to form infinitives. Only “to” does that job. So “try and explain” is not grammatical.
Be warned, though, that in different situations, “try and” can be grammatical. Just as you can say “The Smiths dance and sing,” you can say “The Smiths try and fail.” That’s different because “try and fail” are two separate actions. This is called a coordinated verb because it’s connected with the coordinating conjunction “and.” That’s different from “try to explain,” in which the two verbs work together to create a single action.