"You're not the first one who's had trouble with money," said Mr. Roberts, scrutinizing Mr. Weasley closely. "I had two try and pay me with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago."

I think "I had two try" here means Mr. Roberts had encountered this kind of situation two times. (Is my understanding correct?) I don't quite understand why the singular form of 'try' is being used, instead of the plural form "tries", given the word 'try' is actually an accountable noun. Is it a dialectal usage?

up vote 112 down vote accepted

There are a couple of things about this sentence which make it tricky, but I don't think it's outside the range of what would be considered normal for spoken English (remember it's a quote of what a character is saying).

Firstly there is an omitted noun, secondly "try and" is used instead of "try to". I am not sure why people say "try and" instead of "try to" but in my experience (native British English speaker) it's not terribly uncommon.

So the sentence translates to something like.

"I had two customers try to pay me with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago."

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    +1 This! It is the most simple and correct explanation. "try and" is very common for "try to", hence it reads like "I had two who tried to pay me..." – rexkogitans Dec 6 at 9:19
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    British English speaker here, I read this and to myself i said "try an' pay me". – WendyG Dec 6 at 10:23
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    As an American, "try and ___" is common here as well. For example, "just try and stop me!" comes up in movies pretty often. If I had to guess it seems to be used more often when failure is expected, so it might be a contraction of "try and (fail to) ___" – Kamil Drakari Dec 6 at 15:08
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    @KamilDrakari - As my father (an American) used to say: "'Common' is exactly what it is." ;-) Quite the stickler for these things, my father... (But it worked: I can't hear "try and" without cringing.) – T.J. Crowder Dec 7 at 9:35
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Actually, Merriam-Webster says "try and" is the older of the pair. "Try to" only got invented after writers realized that "try and" doesn't inflect or split very well (or something... the 17th century was a chaotic time for English). – Kevin Dec 8 at 4:51

With context being somewhat limited, it seems he is saying that he had (knew/met) two people who tried and paid him "with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago".

The HAVE + NOUN PHRASE (NP) + VERB construction means experience NP doing what the verb describes. For example:

I have had many people come up to me and ask me for money.

Another similar construction is HAVE + NP + VERB (past participle)

I had my car scuffed.

It should be noted here that HAVE constructions can also be used in causative sentences.

I will have my guy go over there.

I had my hair cut.

  • Is it "have + NP + do" the same as "have + NP + to do"? Is it also correct to say: "I have had many people to come up to me and ask me for money."? – dan Dec 6 at 3:07
  • @dan You should use the bare infinitive, that is, an infinitive without "to". No, that sentence is incorrect. – Eddie Kal Dec 6 at 3:09
  • But I found these examples in Collins dictionary: He had plenty of work to do. I have some important calls to make. – dan Dec 6 at 3:16
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    @dan Those are not the same construction. He had plenty of work to do. implies "The plenty of work was for him to do." "He needed to worry about that work." I had two guys pay me. means "Two guys paid me." – Eddie Kal Dec 6 at 3:19
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    I don't know where the quote comes from, but I took "try and pay" to mean: "two people tried unsuccessfully to pay him" as opposed to your interpretation which seems to be " two people paid him with great gold coins..." When I use "try and" in spoken English it means the person made the offer, but I didn't agree to it. – J. Chris Compton Dec 6 at 17:53

I don't quite understand why the singular form of 'try' is being used

It isn't. In that sentence, "try" is a verb. With verbs, the singular version ends in an 's' and the plural version does not (mostly, as always, there are exceptions). So "try" is the plural version of the verb, while "tries" would be singular. "They try and he tries."

Of course, in this case, "try" is being used as a bare infinitive and so is not subject to subject/verb agreement. "I had one try" would also be grammatically correct here.

Others have already explained how words were elided (left out), but I wanted to address this particular point.

The sentence is not technically correct; it should really be: "I had two try to pay me with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago." In this case, "two" is referring to two people.

It could also be correct and mean that they tried and that they paid.

Context would be helpful to figure out the intended meaning.

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    Many people frown on "try and" but I don't think it's reasonable to claim that it's incorrect. – David Richerby Dec 9 at 13:40

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