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How can I explain to ESL pupils what the difference is between "an attempt" and "a try" (as nouns).

For example: Why can I say "I passed first try", but not *"this is a try to create a perfect human"?

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  • +1, Wow, this is a good one! I gotta remember this, the noun use of "try" vs "attempt". It might come in handy in catching foreign spies! :D
    – F.E.
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 17:28

2 Answers 2

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In my opinion, "Try" is usually for something a little simple. But "Attempt" shows a little complexity or increase in difficulty level of whatever is being attempted.

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  • It was a good try. I mean your attempt was good! :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:01
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    @MaulikV - Actually, I think there's some truth to this answer. A better way to say it might be that "try" is more commonly used in informal speech, while "attempt" has a more formal ring to it.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:47
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You asked as a noun. Don't bother then! They both work quite similarly.

I passed my exams on/at my very first try (sentence reconstructed; thanks Erik Kowal)

And why not, you can certainly use try that way...

This is merely a try to create something (sentence reconstructed)

Refer Cambridge Dictionary for the noun 'try'

try = attempt

However, I'd still see the context and choose my word.

For instance, I'd prefer attempt over try here...

He made no attempt to be amicable.

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  • Yes. Essentially, the distributions of 'attempt' and 'try' are somewhat idiosnycratic. 'Have a go / stab!' ; 'Have a try!' ; 'Have an attempt!' // 'His attempt was over within two weeks.' ?/'His try was over within two weeks.' // 'His attempt to reach the mountain was pathetic.' / '*His try to reach the mountain was pathetic.' Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 14:14
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    To read idiomatically to a native speaker of British or American English, "I passed my exams in a very first try" is better rendered as "I passed my exams on/at my very first try".
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 5:12
  • @ErikKowal I fully agree. It sounds far better. Thanks. A thing learned. Won't forget this! :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 5:26
  • @MaulikV - Glad to be of assistance. :)
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 5:41
  • I've made an attempt at looking up another entry, attempt. It doesn't say "try = attempt". In B2, it says that attempt (n.) is "the act of trying to do something, especially something difficult". Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 9:58

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