Many speakers of North American English use the form tryna with the meaning of 'trying to' in a colloquial register, as in (1). We refer to this as attempt tryna.
1) They’re tryna open the door without the key.
2) We’re tryna build a fence on our own and struggling.
The desire tryna (also spelled trynna) construction, which consists of the contraction of trying+to and a bare verb, has the colloquial meaning of 'want to' or 'desire to', as opposed to 'attempting to'.
3) I’m not tryna go to school tomorrow.
‘I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.’
The two different meanings of tryna often overlap in syntactic distribution and the meaning can be difficult to distinguish, so that speakers rely on context to clarify the meaning.
4) I’m tryna buy this coat, but I know I can’t afford it.
‘I want to buy this coat, but I know I can’t afford it.’
5) I’m tryna buy this coat, but my credit card isn’t working.
‘I’m trying to buy this coat, but my credit card isn’t working.’
Many of the contexts where the meaning is most clear as being desire tryna are contexts where the speaker desires to do something, but is not currently doing it.
Context: You are studying in a hot room with other students and wants to ask if opening the windows is alright with everyone.
6) I’m tryna open the windows, is that okay?
‘I want to open the windows, is that okay?’
This difference is even more apparent in an utterance where the verb is itself the word try, as in (7).
7) They were tryna try the new restaurant they saw online, but it was overbooked.
‘They wanted to try the new restaurant, but it was overbooked.’
Who says this?
The contraction of attempt tryna without the implication of desire is accepted by most speakers of standard English in fast speech or colloquial registers. There is little literature on desire tryna, but it is considered a feature of African American English. It is found to pattern with many other features such as null copula (8), stressed BIN (9), habitual be (10), negative concord (11), and negative inversion (12).
8) Damn if you tryna not waste my time lmk (Twitter, @shalagat)
‘If you don’t want to waste my time let me know.’
9) He bin tryna ruin Lakers (Twitter, @customboss242)
‘He has repeatedly been wanting to ruin the Lakers.’
10) My daughter be tryna fight over her dad with me all the time…(@itssmeeashh)
‘My daughter wants to fight over her dad with me all the time.’
11) I was trynna put you on to something you ain’t never felt (Twitter, @joearcade721)
‘I wanted to put you on to something you've never felt.’
12) … Ain’t nobody tryna work tomorrow (Twitter, @AlmostKing28)
‘Nobody wants to work tomorrow.’
Tryna is also commonly used among younger speakers across ethnic lines, in speech, social media, and texting. Social media, especially Twitter, seems to be a salient influence on younger speakers’ speech and dialect. Goel et al. (2016) studied language change on Twitter by tracking the usage of geographically-linked linguistic markers through interactions on the website. These included abbreviations like tfti (thanks for the information), linked to Los Angeles, and phonetic spellings of words like yeen (you ain’t), linked to Atlanta. They tracked each instance of the words in relation to if the user had (i) ever used the word before or (ii) had had an interaction with a user who used the word before employing it themselves. The study showed that the use of linguistic markers, despite the user’s geographic location, increases with exposure on Twitter.
Because of the large presence of non-standard varieties of English on Twitter and other social media websites, social media could be causing features of African American English to spread into the idiolects of non-AAE younger speakers who are exposed to them online, including the use of desire tryna.
Syntactic and Semantic Properties
Lane (2014) writes that the usage of desire tryna is an example of linguistic camouflaging, in which “vernacular use resembles an already existing form so closely that it is assumed to be identical to its structural counterpart” (Wolfram 2004). The two different meanings of tryna occur in the same syntactic environments and the meaning can oftentimes be difficult to distinguish. Trying+to contracts to tryna but remains in the syntactic distribution of verbs with progressive aspect. The progressive is a grammatical aspectual marker that expresses action in progress, denoted in English by adding the suffix -ing to a verb. Progressive aspect is able to function with activity verbs like try, but not with stative verbs like want.
However, the use of stative verbs in the progressive is standard in Smoky Mountain English (Montgomery & Hall 2004), including verbs want and like (13)-(14), both taken from Montgomery & Hall 2004).
13) Was you wantin’ to go to town?
14) We was liking you just fine.
These constructions are not acceptable for most speakers of standard American English, although there seems to be an increase in the usage of the progressive form with stative verbs, shown especially in the widespread acceptance of progressive love, as in the popular slogan for McDonald’s: “I’m lovin’ it.” (Mair 2012).
The original usage of tryna, meaning ‘attempting to’, is a contraction of the activity verb try in the progressive form (trying) and the infinitive marker to. However, the alternative meaning is synonymous with the verb want, which is stative. Because of its evolution through linguistic camouflaging, tryna retains the same syntactic distribution that the progressive form has, even though the meaning can be “want to” or “wanting to” (15)-(16).
15) I am so tired, I’m tryna get some coffee.
‘I’m so tired, I want to get some coffee.’
16) It was so hot in the room, I was tryna open the window all class.
‘It was so hot in the room, I was wanting to open the window all class.’
The usage of tryna also has some parallels to the use of finna, or fixin’ to, another feature of African American English. They both include the usage of a contraction ‘progressive verb + infinitive to’, and both have connections to Smoky Mountain English (Staub 2017).
Compatibility with tenses
Tryna occurs in all tenses that the progressive aspect is compatible with, including present (17)-(18) and simple past tense (19)-(20), all in be + progressive form.
17) I’m tryna eat something sweet.
‘I want to eat something sweet.’
18) He ∅ tryna be polite so bad… (Twitter, @yung_Africaa)
‘He wants to be polite so bad.’
19) He was not tryna miss that exit (Twitter, @engxl)
‘He did not want to miss that exit.’
20) You can tell they were not tryna hear it (Twitter, @doc_2_u)
‘You can tell they did not want to hear it.’
Tryna’s acceptability in the future tense seems to be less than natural (21). The present tense would be favored instead (22), relying on the context (in this case, the adverb tomorrow) to place the event in the future.
21) ? I’ll be tryna open that window tomorrow.
22) I’m tryna open that window tomorrow.
Perfect aspect in English is expressed with the auxiliary have and a past participle. Because of tryna’s progressive form, it cannot be combined directly with perfect aspect. Progressive aspect denotes continuity and an ongoing action, while perfect aspect denotes a completed action, in the past, present, or future.
23) *People have tryna make me feel bad for sleeping in every day.
Similar to the future tense (21), the past perfect progressive form (24) is unnatural, with speakers favoring the simple past form (25) instead.
Context: You were sitting in a class thinking about wanting to open the window, but you never got up to do so.
24) ? I had been tryna open the window all class.
25) I was tryna open the window all class.
These two examples, the future and the past perfect, show that tryna prefers and is most natural in the present and the simple past.
Tryna is also found in the perfect progressive aspect, which uses been as the past participle followed by a verb in progressive form. The present perfect progressive form seems to be entirely acceptable.
26) I’ve been tryna buy those shoes, but I’ve never had enough money for them.
Definite and indefinite subjects
Tryna can occur with definite subjects and pronouns as seen in examples such as (8)-(12) or (17)-(20). It can also occur with indefinite subjects such as with nobody (12), everybody (27), and anyone (28).
27) Being college broke got everybody tryna work all summer (Twitter, @Official_jjack)
‘Being college broke got everybody wanting to work all summer.’
28) Anyone tryna go to the park with me today?
‘Anyone want to go to the park with me today?’
Tryna seems to work best with non-specific indefinite pronouns that range over a set or group as in (27)-(28) and is less natural with specific indefinites corresponding to an individual the speaker or writer has in mind, although examples of the latter can be found (29)-(30).
29) Somebody tryna take me to chipotle (Twitter, @doitlikedesss)
30) Someone tryna see avengers with me tomorrow? (Twitter, @chelle_lauder)
Because you cannot predict or know the desire of an individual indefinite subject, these pronouns are not always acceptable in conjunction with desire tryna.
The indefinite pronouns anyone and anybody also occur most commonly in questions because the unknown thoughts and desires of the target subject can be discovered through a question.
Animate and inanimate subjects
Tryna prefers animate or personified subjects over inanimate subjects. This includes human subjects as shown in most previous examples, and animals (31)-(32).
31) The dog was barking all night, he was really tryna go outside.
32) That pigeon’s tryna steal my food, it won’t stop staring at me.
Inanimate subjects such as the weather (33) and other inanimate objects that require the pronoun it do not function well with tryna. There are attested examples found on Twitter (34)-(35), but the meaning is ambiguous and may favor the original 'attempting to' meaning as opposed to the 'want to' meaning.
33) The weather is always tryna ruin our day.
34) I cut my hand the other day, I think it’s tryna get infected (Twitter, @tooflyboi)
35) My finger feel like it’s tryna fall off (Twitter, @lovechrista_)
Because of the necessity of experiencing want or desire, and inanimate subjects with no agency or sentience cannot want or desire to do something, in such cases tryna is interpreted as 'trying to'. This usage of tryna could also demonstrate an additional meaning that denotes likelihood. This is further discussed in the Related Phenomena section.
Tryna occurs commonly with negation. In a study of 250 instances of tryna taken from Twitter, with some examples being ambiguous between meanings, Taverna and Goldberg (2014) found that tryna coupled with negation was twice as likely to mean 'want' or 'desire to', while affirmative tryna was twice as likely to mean 'attempting to'.
The negation that occurs with tryna is also most commonly non-contracted, meaning example (37) would be preferred over (36). Both are accepted, but (37) would most likely be a more natural utterance. The not also most commonly occurs before tryna, although there are attested examples of not occurring after tryna (see (6) above).
36) You aren’t tryna go to that party, are you?
37) You’re not tryna go to that party, are you?
The reason behind this could come from tryna’s existence as a feature of African American English where the null copula is common. Without copula be present, you cannot form contracted negation and must use not, explaining the preference for not even in utterances with a copula be. Following this, example (38) would also be accepted and possibly preferred over (37).
38) You not tryna go to that party, are you?
One exception to this is the use of ain’t, which is another feature of African American English (among other varieties) and is often found with tryna. Because of the use of ain’t to mean multiple different forms of contracted negation, such as isn’t and aren’t (Green 2002), it may be employed in place of the null copula + not construction for speakers who normally have ain’t in their idiolect (39).
39) You ain’t tryna go to that party, are you?
desire tryna is sometimes found with an elided, or unpronounced, verb. Using the same context of sentences (38) and (39) above, an example of verb ellipsis would be as follows:
40) I heard there’s a party tonight. Are you tryna ∅?
‘I heard there’s a party tonight. Are you tryna go?’
The verb that is unpronounced is inferred from the context of the situation. In (38), the verb that is elided is go.
If the verb is elided, all content that is the complement of the verb, meaning a word or phrase that completes the meaning of the verbal expression, must also be elided. In (38), we could say that the elided verb go also has the implied complement to the party. You could not have a sentence like in (41):
41) *I heard there’s a party tonight. Are you tryna ∅ to the party?
However, any content that is not a complement to the verb can remain pronounced while the verb is null.
42) I heard there’s a party tonight. Are you tryna ∅ after we eat dinner?
‘I heard there’s a party tonight. Are you tryna go to the party after we eat dinner?’
There is another form of ellipsis with desire tryna that has a euphemistic meaning. The elided verb phrase in this case would be inferred to be ‘hook up’ (romantically) or something synonymous.
43) It seemed like Alex was flirting with you yesterday. Are you tryna ∅?
‘It seemed like Alex was flirting with you yesterday, do you want to hook up with them?’
The euphemistic ellipsis seems to be more commonly accepted than the non-euphemistic version. Some speakers who use desire tryna may not be able to use ellipsis at all, some may only be able to use the euphemistic type, and some are able to use all types of ellipsis.
Tryna, pronounced /tɹaɪnə/, has other observed pronunciations, including /tɹɪnə/ (“trinna”) and /tɹinə/ (“treena”). The second pronunciation was said to be preferred in example (8), where the bare infinitive used was try. The extent of these different pronunciations is unknown, but it is possible that they have come about as a way to avoid phonetic cacophony, or to distinguish the ‘want/desire’ to meaning of tryna from the ‘attempting to’ meaning.
For utterances like those found in (33)-(35) which have inanimate subjects coupled with tryna, a different shade of meaning arises. Because these sentences are grammatical yet incompatible with the ‘desire’ meaning, we could refer to examples like this as likelihood tryna. This usage of tryna indicates that something is likely to happen, and does not include any meaning of attempting to do something or wanting to do something.
The interpretation of example (34), restated below would be as follows:
44) I cut my hand the other day, I think it’s tryna get infected.
‘I cut my hand the other day, I think it’s probably/likely to get infected.’
Further research is required to determine likelihood tryna syntactic and semantic properties, but it is worth noting that tryna has a gradient of many different meanings to be determined from context, including those of attempt tryna, desire tryna, and likelihood tryna.
Page contributed by Chloe Gonzalez on April 14, 2020
Please cite this page as: Gonzalez, Chloe. 2020. Tryna. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/tryna. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD).
All uncited examples come from the author.