‘Try’ is a special verb in English because we can follow it with either a gerund (ing form) or infinitive. However the meaning changes.
Watch the video and learn how ‘try to do’ is different from ‘try doing’.

Watch videos about some other verbs that can be followed by gerunds and infinitives. Learn how their meanings change.
used to do – be used to doing
stop to do – stop doing
Click here to watch more grammar videos

Try to do or Try doing script

What are you doing?
Oh, I’m trying to learn to touch type.
But what are all the stickie notes for?
Oh, I’m trying not to look at the keys.
Good luck with that.

The verb ‘try’ can be followed by an infinitive form or a gerund and the two structures have very similar meanings. In fact they’re so similar that in some situations you can use either.

Have you spoken to Rachel? No I tried calling her but the line was busy.
Have you spoken to Rachel? No I tried to call her but the line was busy.

In both cases Jay wanted to speak to Rachel. ‘I tried calling’ means he thought phoning might be the way to do it. I tried to call’ means he made an effort – made an attempt to speak to her.
So the difference is very subtle – very small. ‘Try doing’ is about getting results, achieving a successful outcome. Try to do’ is about making an effort.

I’m trying to change this lightbulb but I can’t reach.

We often use ‘try to do’ when we think something is hard.

We’re trying to do this jigsaw, but it’s very difficult.

What’s a frog’s favourite drink?
Jay, I’m busy.
Croak-a-Cola. Did you know cows have four stomachs?
Jay, I’m trying to work.

So we use ‘try to’ when an action iteself is hard. When an action is easy but we don’t know if it will achieve the result we want, we use ‘try doing’.

What do you think?
It’s a bit tasteless.
Try adding some salt.

Adding salt is easy, so the issue here is will salt make it better. Try doing’ is about experimenting to find something that works.

The television’s not working. Try plugging it in. Oh.

We often use ‘trying doing’ when there’s a problem and we’re suggesting a possible solution.

I want to finish my coffee. It’s hot.
Try putting some ice in it.
Good idea.

I do wish you’d try going out with some of the other boys as well as Geoff.
Why? Mother I like Geoff a lot.
I know dear. I like him too. But after all, there are other boys in the world.

So ‘try to do’ – make an effort. ‘Try doing’ – experiment. You can see both forms in this sentence here. Learning to touch type is hard. You have to make an effort. Perhaps sticky notes will help, or perhaps not. They’re an experiment. One last example.

What are you doing?
I’m trying to get a paper ball into Kathy’s trash can.
Oh well done!
Can I try?
OK. Here we go.
Try rolling it into a smaller ball.

Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript
Watch videos about some other verbs that can be followed by gerunds and infinitives. Learn how their meanings change.
used to do – be used to doing
stop to do – stop doing
Click here to watch more grammar videos



36 thoughts on “Try to do and Try doing (gerunds and infinitives)”

  1. Hi to dear Vicki Hollett. Thank for your helpful lessons and tips videos . These lessons are really great to improve my English and I really appreciate it. Best luck for you

        1. Hi Lena. The verb try can be any tense you’d like. eg. I tried to sail, I try to sail every week, I’ll try to sail next weekend. The thing you can’t change is the infinitive form.

          1. The clearest explanation ever! Thanks, Vicky! By the way, are you who did a great collab with a teacher on Youtube about an airport conversation? Cheers!

          2. Hi Fabio. I think you’ve seen a video we made with Rachel of Rachel’s English. She live in Philadelphia too and we’re friends. It was fun to make it with her! 🙂

  2. I tried charging the battery, but it is still not working. I tried charging the battery, but it is still not working. which one is grammatically right

    1. Hi Hisham. They’re identical. Did you mean to change one of them to I tried to charge the battery? They’re both correct and they mean similar things. I tried charging means you experimented with that approach. I tried to charge means you made an attempt.

    1. Hi Jeyhun. Normally we’d say try to be happy. If you say try being happy it suggests that you have been attempting to be unhappy which would be odd.

  3. Thank you very much.It became clear me how to use verb or gerund after to try. But I’d like ask question. “It’s important to be happy or being happy” which one is correct?.Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Keung. In this sentence both answers are possible. ‘Try to make’ means make an effort and ‘try making’ means experiment with. Hope this helps.

        1. Hi Sam. Great to see you experimenting. That’s the way to learn! But I’m afraid this doesn’t sound like natural English. Maybe: I tried to understand you, but I ended up not being able to understand you.’ Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Johanna. Yes we can. For example:
      ‘I’m so worried about the corona virus’. It’s making me stressed.
      ‘Try forgetting about it.’

  4. Hi Vicki,
    First of all thanks a lot for the lesson!
    Here is the question;
    She needed to borrow some money. She tried asking Gerry but he was short of money too.
    Can we use instead of asking to ask in this sentence?

  5. Dear Vicky and Jay, you are the best sources I use when I want to explain something to my students and can’t find the right words 🙂
    You are both fantastic.

  6. Thank you very much for your explanations. Could we say that one meaning of Try to + gerund, with maybe an exclamation mark, conveys exactly an impossibility?

  7. Hello, Vicki! I’m so happy I found your video about this point of grammar. It’s very helpful when I need to explain the distinction between try + gerund and try + infinitive. There are lots of great examples. This is a fun way to help my students understand. Cheers!

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