... I just came across the following examples in *Destination C1 & C2 (*MacMillan publication):

1) Try as he might, he couldn't [endure] the pain.
2) However hard he (might have) tried, he couldn't [endure] the pain.
3) Much as he tried, he couldn't [endure] the pain.

[Source:] The short answer is no, these forms are not limited to the verb try ...
These structures are nuanced alternatives to saying "no matter ..." or "regardless of ...".

I already understand and so ask NOT about the meaning of this idiom, below which I want to burrow. Instead, I ask about the different, confusing syntax of this idiom; ordinarily, an adverb dependent clause retains this construct: {subordinate conjunction} + {subject} + {verb}. Yet how does 1 still mean the same as 2 and 3? Please elucidate and expain 1's strange syntax?

2 Answers 2


Adverbial clauses of concession that contain an idea of contrast have a lot of possibilities and almost all have special word order because the special kind of clause with concession must be shown clearly. The patterns are numerous but they are fixed.

Alexander in Longman English Grammar, paragraph 1.50, shows 15 types and ways a clause of concession can have.

With verbs common introductions are

  • Try as he might (he couldn't solve the problem).
  • Much as I like him (I can't forget his bad behaviour last night).

It really needs time to study this sector of grammar and it is written elevated style, not so much spoken language.

As to the formula "Try as he might + main clause" it is a formula that is a bit twisted and shortened. It would be quite a task to show a conclusive line of evolution. But something like "He might try as hard as he could" was probably an expression at the beginning, then this frequently used formula was shortened and the word order was changed.


It's fronting of the verb complement in a concessive clause.

You must log in to answer this question.