Jason Tanaka (author’s father)
The try get construction consists of the bare form of the verb try followed by the bare form of another verb. Sentence (1) is an example of this construction, with the verb try followed immediately by the verb get:
1) We’ll try get some coffee tomorrow.
For speakers of many varieties of English, sentence (1) is unacceptable. Instead, they might say, We’ll try to get some coffee tomorrow, with try followed by the infinitival form to get, or We’ll try getting some coffee tomorrow, with try followed by the -ing form getting. Speakers with the try get construction accept all three sentences. The verb that follows try does not have to be get, as shown in the following examples:
2) a. Try bring the book over here.
b. I wanna try eat at the new Korean food court.
c. He will try use the recipe you gave him.
d. She asked me to try finish my dinner before grabbing dessert.
e. I try sit at the same table every day.
Who says this?
This page describes the try get construction as it is used by some speakers of Hawaiʻi English, a local variety of English. Note that this variety differs from what is commonly called ‘Pidgin,’ an English-based creole that is also widely spoken in Hawaiʻi. Whereas Pidgin emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from the interactions between various ethnic groups laboring on sugarcane plantations, English was spoken primarily by the minority of plantation owners and other Euro-American settlers. Both of these languages largely replaced ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian, a Polynesian language) as the main spoken languages in the islands following the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1893 and the deliberate suppression of the Hawaiian language throughout much of the twentieth century. Hawaiʻi English is more similar to varieties of North American English than to other varieties of English, such as Australian or British English. For a more thorough description of the linguistic situation in Hawaiʻi, see Wilson (1998) and Drager (2012).
Although this page focuses on the try get construction in Hawaiʻi English, this construction is possibly related to uses of try found in Pidgin. For example, Reinecke and Tokimasa (1934:123) describe uses of try in imperatives in Hawaiʻi, such as in the following sentence:
3) Mr. Reinecke, try read this page.
They do not distinguish between Hawaiʻi English and Pidgin. Carr (2019:155) cites Reinecke and Tokimasa (1934) and provides an additional example:
4) A: Will you have anything else?
B: Yeah, try pass da rice.
'Yes, please pass the rice.'
Carr (2019) says that this usage occurs in a wide variety of speakers in Hawaiʻi, including speakers of what this page categorizes as Pidgin and Hawaiʻi English. However, Pidgin and Hawaiʻi English have distinct enough grammars for their uses of try to be described and analyzed separately. Therefore, grammaticality judgments presented on this page were collected from native speakers of Hawaiʻi English with limited competence in Pidgin.
Phenomena similar to the try get construction in Hawaiʻi English seem to occur elsewhere, in places like Australia, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Kjellmer (2000) identifies a construction consisting of any form of the verb try followed by a bare infinitive, suggesting that the construction may be an example of emergent language change in English. In a corpus search, he found that most instances of this construction occur in Australia and the United Kingdom. Some examples from his corpus search include the following (Kjellmer 1990, 116):
5) a. In response, the BLP has been holding private meetings at a St Philips-based retreat to try clarify its election tactics and to brush up its public image.
b. Try not give them anything to eat or drink.
c. Lady Thatcher would not add to her comments last night but supporters insisted that she was not trying oust Mr. Major.
d. The ground still trembles from time to time as Irya tries remember the earthquake which left her and her 14-year-old Sasha orphans early on Sunday morning.
Note that examples (5c-d) are ungrammatical in Hawaiʻi English because they do not use the bare form of try. Thus, the construction that Kjellmer (1990) describes is probably distinct from the try get construction examined here.
Similar uses of try can be found online in Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as Singapore:
6) a. Try see it on a sunny day (TripAdvisor user from Melbourne, Australia)
b. Try get other hotels (TripAdvisor user from Singapore)
c. Need to try get to places like this for Christmas (Twitter user from Scotland, UK)
Again, it is unclear whether these are instances of the try get construction or a superficially similar phenomenon.
Syntactic and Morphological Properties
The try get construction is only available when both of the verbs are bare:
7) Every morning I try buy a coffee.
This restriction is similar to that of the go get construction found in most varieties of English (Zwicky 1969; Pullum 1990; Bjorkman 2016). The go get construction consists of the bare form of the verb go or come followed by the bare form of another verb. Examples from Bjorkman (2016:54) are given below:
8) a. Go get me a coffee!
b. I expected him to come visit again soon.
c. Every morning I go buy a coffee.
Both the go get construction and the try get construction are limited to bare inflectional contexts. This means that other forms of the verbs, such as goes/went/going, tries/tried/trying, and gets/got/getting, are not accepted. Thus, in the following set of examples, only sentence (9a) is grammatical. The sentences are modified from Bjorkman (2016:54):
9) a. Every morning I go buy a coffee.
b. *Every morning she goes buys a coffee.
c. *Yesterday morning she went bought a coffee.
d. *Right now she is going buying a coffee.
The same restriction applies to the try get construction in Hawaiʻi English:
10) a. Every morning I try buy a coffee.
b. *Every morning she tries buys a coffee.
c. *Yesterday morning she tried bought a coffee.
d. *Right now she is trying buying a coffee.
The form of the first verb go or try cannot vary (e.g. goes/went/going or tries/tried/trying), even if the second verb (e.g. get) is bare. Similarly, the form of the second verb cannot vary (e.g. get/got/getting), even if the first verb is bare. This requirement for the forms of both verbs to be identical to each other is demonstrated by the following sentences, of which only (11a) is grammatical:
11) a. He will come cook the rice.
b. *He comes cook the rice.
c. *He came cook the rice.
d. *He is coming cook the rice.
e. *He come cooks the rice.
f. *He come cooked the rice.
g. *He is come cooking the rice.
The same holds for the try get construction in Hawaiʻi English:
12) a. He will try cook the rice.
b. *He tries cook the rice.
c. *He tried cook the rice.
d. *He is trying cook the rice.
e. *He try cooks the rice.
f. *He try cooked the rice.
g. *He is try cooking the rice..
No verbs other than try, come, and go seem to behave in this pattern. However, there seems to be no special restriction on the second verb in the construction.
Morphological, not syntactic, restriction
Bjorkman (2016) argues that these restrictions on the go get construction depend on the surface form of the verbs in question and not their grammatical properties, such as whether the sentence is past, present, or future tense. For example, sentences with do that use the bare form of the main verb can “rescue” the go get construction. The examples below are adapted from Bjorkman (2016:56):
13) a. *She goes gets the paper every morning.
b. Does she go get the paper every morning?
c. She doesn’t go get the paper every morning.
14) a. *Our neighbor came left a note on our door.
b. Did our neighbor come leave a note on our door?
c. Our neighbor didn’t come leave a note on our door.
In examples (13) and (14), using forms of do allows the main verbs to occur in their bare forms when they would otherwise have an overt marking, thus “rescuing” the go get construction.
The same rescuing phenomenon occurs with the try get construction in Hawaiʻi English:
15) a. *She tries sits at the same table every day.
b. Does she try sit at the same table every day?
c. She doesn't try sit at the same table every day.
16) a. *He tried brought the book over here.
b. Did he try bring the book over here?
c. He didn't try bring the book over here.
Using do in examples (15b-c) and (16b-c) rescues the ungrammatical sentences in (15a) and (16a).
"Try go get"
The try get construction and go get construction can be “combined” with one another, resulting in three consecutive verbs, all of which must be in their bare form, as demonstrated in the following example:
17) a. I wanna try go eat at the new Korean food court.
b. He asked her to come try fix the broken air conditioner.
As the sentences show, the constructions can occur in either order, with either try or come/go as the first verb.
Page contributed by Kento Tanaka, October, 2020.
Formatting: Oliver Shoulson, July 13, 2020.
Please cite this page as: Tanaka, Kento. 2020. ‘Try Get.’ Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/try-get. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD).