1

Let’s imagine two constructions:

It is worth trying, and

It deserves a try

Checking on google Ngram Viewer I found out that both are valid English.

In my language, there are no the exact equivalents to the words worth or to deserve, we translate them using most frequently the word merit which has a similar meaning.

Now, starting from the definition of merit as verb = to deserve or be worthy and its synonyms deserve, be worth I wonder if the above constructions convey a similar meaning and can be used interchangeable.

3

You can even say it's worth a try, which is probably the usage I personally would opt for.

There is a difference in semantics between being worth something and deserving something, but notwithstanding the semantically different “angle”, they are often, like in these expressions, interchangeable.

To be worth something means that something represents a certain value. Literally, as in this house is worth a lot of money, or figuratively, as in this book is worth reading.

It means that if you were to invest something (time, effort, money) in exchange for the object, you would have a good deal.

To deserve something means that something or someone has the right to receive something — either because of inherent qualities or because of a delivered good or effort. Literally, as in an employee deserves to be paid for doing their work or figuratively as in this book deserves reading.

As you noticed, when I am talking about a good book, I can use both options without any problem. For some people, there might be a small perceived difference in meaning, but I dare say that in general, both options will be interpreted the same.

On the other hand, these examples would not sit well with most people:

This house deserves a lot of money.

It raises the question what the house did to "deserve" money. The sentence indicates I should give money to the house, not to buy it, but because somehow the house deserves to be donated funds.

An employee is worth money for their job.

This treats the employee as a commodity, that can be bought!

In general, deserve indicates some (moral) right to something, whereas worth indicates a real of figurative value.

Crime deserves punishment. (not is worth punishment!)
This painting is worth a fortune. (not deserves a fortune!)

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1

Yes, they're interchangeable.

As an aside: The closest common phrase involving merit I can come up with is it merits consideration, which is similar but not exactly interchangeable with the above two. (There's also it merits a go, which is closer in meaning, but this sounds British and is much more colloquial than any of the others we're discussing; it doesn't show up in the Ngram viewer.)

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  • Much obliged, especially for the use of merit! +1 – Lucian Sava Nov 21 '14 at 12:40

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