1

That does not mean we shouldn’t try to find it — and try we are. For more than 50 years, scientists have been using high-powered radio telescopes and other equipment to try to intercept any signals coming from outer space that are not naturally occurring, in what is known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

(Jesse Kline: Give E.T. a call, National Post, Feb 27, 2015)

What should I make of the bold part grammatically?

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    It's a mistake: the author has suffered a brain-burp and confused trying we are and try we do. These are shufflings of we are trying and we do try which put the lexical verb at the front so the sentence ends on the auxiliary, strongly stressed to emphasize that's what we are trying or do try. – StoneyB Mar 8 '15 at 1:56
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking us to explain a mistake. (Another "not-quite-so-elegant-but-at-least-grammatical" alternative would be " — and trying we are".) – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '15 at 2:55
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    I hesitate to close questions that are about source material that has a mistake. If a learner had written it, wouldn't we explain why it isn't correct? Sure one-off typos should probably be closed, but I think this mistake is a little interesting. – ColleenV Mar 8 '15 at 5:44
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    I would tend to leave it open. The question asks about "the grammar" of the phrase, and StoneyB shows that it's got some interesting such, as a mistake and as either of its corrected forms. It's well-answered, but could probably benefit from a write-up that is friendlier to more ELLs--and non-linguists--and perhaps more comprehensive. Although the OP doesn't explicitly state the specific cause of wonderment, I think we can safely infer the most fundamental reason it would interest most ELLs. – Jim Reynolds Mar 8 '15 at 5:54
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    @everyone - Yes, I had no problem to understand the grammatical alternatives after reading StoneyB's comment as I've learned the basic grammar in English, but that doesn't prevent me from recognizing mistakes in English writings. Most of the time when I see something I don't understand I take it as something I haven't learned yet. It wasn't my intention to ask an explanation for the mistake in the article. – whitecap Mar 8 '15 at 18:15
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That does not mean we shouldn’t try to find it — and try we are. For more than 50 years, scientists have been using high-powered radio telescopes and other equipment to try to intercept any signals coming from outer space that are not naturally occurring, in what is known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

This involves verb phrase preposing, and there have been a couple of related threads on this:

The main point is that it seems that the writer wanted to use the verb "try" in that last clause (instead of "trying") so as to match the verb "try" which had been used earlier in the sentence in order to obtain a certain prosodic effect.


LONG VERSION:


In the example sentence, which is the 1st sentence in the OP's excerpt:

    1. That does not mean we shouldn’t try to find it — and try we are.

the last clause "try we are" has had the verb phrase (VP) "try" preposed in front of the clause.

Normally that last clause would have been in the form of a progressive construction:

  • we are trying

and the preposed VP version would then be:

  • trying we are

But then the verb "trying" wouldn't have the same shape as the earlier verb "try".

It is likely that the writer intentionally chose to use "try" (instead of "trying") in order to obtain the prosodic effect that comes from the repeating of the word "try". And this effect is in addition to the effect obtained from the preposing of the verb "try/trying" in that last clause of the OP's example.

Consider a version that would merely prepose the VP "trying":

    1. That does not mean we shouldn’t try to find it — and trying we are.

and compare it to the original example:

    1. That does not mean we shouldn’t try to find it — and try we are.

Also notice that there is an additional 3rd "try" in the OP's excerpt:

That does not mean we shouldn’t try to find it — and try we are. For more than 50 years, scientists have been using high-powered radio telescopes and other equipment to try to intercept any signals coming from outer space that are not naturally occurring, in what is known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Having the three repetitions together like that produces a much stronger effect than if the 2nd "try" had been the normal "trying".


A possible grammatical rationale for justifying the use of "try" (instead of "trying") in that example sentence's last clause is that the plain form of a verb is usually an acceptable alternate for this type of preposing.

Consider VP preposing involving a perfect construction: usually the preposed element's head verb can be either in the past-participle verb form or in the plain verb form. That is, both the past-participle form and the plain form of the verb are acceptable. The 2002 CGEL page 1381:

Inflection with perfect have

A special issue arises when the preposed element is a complement of perfect have. Compare:

[25]

  • i. He said he wouldn't tell them, [ but tell/told them he has ].

  • ii. He denies he has told them, [ but tell/told them he has ].

Although have normally takes a past participle, it is the plain form of the verb that is preferred in [i ]. The past participle is preferred in [ii ], where it has been used in the preceding clause, but even here the plain form tell is acceptable.

Though, the OP's example sentence doesn't involve a perfect construction for its last clause: it uses a progressive construction. This substitution of a plain verb form (for the -ing participle verb form) might not occur as often in a VP preposed progressive construction as it does in a VP preposed perfect construction (caveat: I don't really know). And so, it is possible that many speakers might find its acceptability to be less than that when done involving the perfect construction.


NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum (et al.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

  • +1 I think we ought to rename CGEL "CGEL II". What say you? – Araucaria May 15 '15 at 10:44
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Presumably, this is an attempt to make the construct "and try I/he/she/we/they did" present tense. An example of this:

She said she would try to run an 8 minute mile, and try she did.

I believe I've also seen this in future tense:

I promised my sister I would try to come back---and try I will

Looking at google n-grams, "try we are" is sees about the same level of usage as the other terms.

I'm having difficulty finding a grammatical analysis of this, but as a native speaker, the phrase seems to be common enough.

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