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What I learned from try-to-do-something-vs-try-doing-something, to+do is used to attempt to do or accomplish and to+gerund is used to test the effect or result or an effort based on more of a guess work.

Isn't it still difficult to guess? These are some exercise that I've tried to answer, but I got all wrong.

  1. I rang the doorbell, but there was no answer. Then I tried to knock on the window, but there was still no answer. (The correct answer on my book is tried knocking).
  2. Sue needed to borrow some money. She tried to ask Carl, but he didn't have any. (The correct answer on my book is tried asking).
  3. The woman's face was familiar. I tried remembering where I'd seen her before. (The correct answer on my book is tried to remember).

I still find it difficult which one to choose between those two. At first, I thought that If I did something, but it failed, "try to" will be used, and if I did something but it worked, "try+gerund" will be used, but seems like it doesn't true?

Now, can I think about this: if I did "something different from something that has been done before", then try+gerund must be used, but if there is only one thing that has been done or there is a statement before, then try+to must be used. Is it correct to think that way?

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  • "! tried to knock on the window" would mean that you didn't succeed in doing so. Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 7:13
  • "Try" + infinitival means "endeavour", while "try" + gerund-participle means "test the effectiveness of".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 9:40

2 Answers 2

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Q1. if I did "something different from something that has been done before", then try+gerund must be used,

Q2.if there is only one thing that has been done or there is a statement before, then try+to must be used.

Is it correct to think that way?


A1.

Try to do something The structure try to do something shows an attempt or effort to do, get or achieve something, for example:

I must try to complete this report by the end of the day; Have you ever tried to learn a musical instrument? You should try not to drink more than twice a week; He likes to try to beat his sister at chess, but she always wins; The children tried to put up the tent by themselves, but in the end they needed to ask their parents for help;

When you use try to do something, it suggests that you may fail or you may succeed in your attempt (or, if in the past, you had the possibility of failing or succeeding).

I like to think; To satisfy the use of to+do was the action attempted but not completed or was the objective reached.

Try and do something You may sometimes see or hear the structure try and do something. For example:

Let’s try and finish cooking dinner before our friends arrive.

Can you try and fix the printer for me please?

This is used in casual English as a replacement for try to do something but it’s not strictly correct so should certainly be avoided in formal speech, and in most writing.


A2.

Try doing something The structure try doing something shows an experiment or test. When you try doing something, you always succeed in that action but it may or may not help your overall aim. Use the structure when you’re doing something in order to solve a problem. Have a look at these examples:

I’ve tried altering this recipe so many ways, but the cake never comes out quite right; My phone stopped working, so I tried turning it off and on again; My colleague doesn’t seem to like me very much, even though I’ve tried inviting him to our social events; If you have a sore throat, try drinking honey and lemon mixed with warm water;

I like to think; To satisfy the use of to+gerund was a test or experiment (action/effort) performed and did it have had an effect/result.

Note; the result may not be the one you wanted. For example the Door was not answered.

Ref Improving your English

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  • Simpler to say that "try" + infinitival means "endeavour", while "try" + gerund-participle means "test the effectiveness of".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 9:36
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In cases where try + gerund should be used:

  1. In Examples1 and 2, if you remove "try", the idea does not change:

    I tried ringing the doorbell. I tried knocking on the window. I tried asking Carl.

all mean the same as saying:

I rang the doorbell. I knocked on the window. I asked Carl.

  1. the gerund verb expresses methodology, but does not directly or completely express the ultimate goal/intention/endeavor:

In your example 1, what is the ultimate goal? To ring? To knock? No, the goal is to contact (the person in the house). Ringing and knocking are methods used.

In your Example 2, what is the ultimate goal? to ask? No. The intention is to get (money). Asking Carl is a method used.

In your Example 3, what is the ultimate goal? to remember? Yes. The verb remember expresses the entire intention of the effort, not a method that can be used.

In general, using the try + infinitive construction places more focus on the infinitive verb as being pivotally important. Ability vs. inability. Failure is often implied, simply by using this construction.

This is why, as Kate Bunting pointed out, saying, "I tried to knock on the window" puts focus on the knocking itself (or the "ability" to knock as being key), and implies that you were unable to do so.

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  • Or put simply: "Try" + infinitival means "endeavour", while "try" + gerund-participle means "test the effectiveness of".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 6:30

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