Thursday, October 4, 2012

31 Days to Better Grammar: Day 4 — How many things can you do in one sentence?

Wow! Day 4 already!

If you want to catch up on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3, go ahead and do that. Or not. It's okay if you want to lie awake at night and wonder what brilliant nuggets of grammatical gold were shared that you missed because you just didn't feel like going to the supreme effort of clicking on already very conveniently linked posts. Really. It's fine.

For those of you who don't know me personally, here's a brief summary of my life at the moment: The transmission in my car has all but died. My husband spent two days away on business (he's home now). I have been sick since last Thursday with flu-like symptoms minus the sore throat and head congestion—basically I just feel like I've been hit by a bus. I'm spending large chunks of time lying in my bed playing Words with Friends on my phone and feeding my hypochondria by self-diagnosing my enlarged spleen. My teenage son is feeding me.

So if today's lesson is brief—and I'd like it to be, but you know my propensity for excessive verbiage—I hope you understand.


One of the most common errors I see being committed by well-educated, well-spoken people is what I call the "try and" construction. You know, I will try and stop for milk before I come home. And the problem with this particular phrase, like so many other mistakes in English, is that it's not what the writer means. Did you know that the responsibility for communication is on the one doing the talking (or writing), not on the one listening? That means you must make the effort to say what you mean.

What this guy means is I will make a good effort to stop. That's ONE thing he is presumably going to do before he comes home. One thing.

But what he is saying is that he intends to do TWO things, and the way we know this is by that little word AND between the two verbs, try and stop. The sentence says he is going to try and he is also going to stop. This would all be abundantly clear if we could only diagram it.

Oh, heck. We've come this far; let's just see if we can draw a basic diagram.

                                                           ___will try________
                                                       |  \___will stop_______

And there you have it. The subject (I) goes on the horizontal line on the left (in green). Then we draw a vertical line through that first horizontal one (that's the red line). This separates the subject and the verb. Normally, the verb goes on the continued horizontal line after the vertical one (where the blue is). In a sentence with one subject and one verb, the diagram looks like a tall cross laid on its side. But in this case, there are two verbs, as proven by that little AND. So we make the verb line forked, with room for both verbs (and their helpers). In a perfect world, we would turn the paper sideways and write and vertically between the two verb lines, but my computer skills have a limit, and we reached it at the forked verb line.

I hope you can see by this little exercise that the guy intends to do TWO things, try and stop.

What he means to say is this:

I will try to stop for milk before I come home.

Try is the verb, and to stop is a verb infinitive that tells us what action he's going to attempt.

So remember to say what you mean. The correct construction is try to, not try and.

Happy writing!

Be thankful ~


Anita said...

Great diagram! =) I was thinking you did a great job, even without the 'and'.

I would like to know more about this common thing I see everywhere on blogs, the word 'anyhoo'. I thought I'd ask your opinion. Do people not know how to spell anyhow? Or is this some new idiotic way to type it? =)

I hope you feel better soon. I am also dealing with that head thing and it's no fun. (See, I do know how to use the conjunction!)

Kayla said...

Alright. There is hope for me. I actually noticed what was wrong with your sentence before you "spelled" it out for me. So, apparently, I am great at identifying other peoples mistakes....but probably not my own. Oh, well.