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Spanish has three words that can translate to English to try.

Probar is easy to remember because it's used for sample or taste, like:

Have you ever tried tacos el pastor?

But I never know when to use tratar de or intentar. Just now I wanted to write I will try to come to the next meeting and used intentar but when I checked with Google Translate it used tratar de.

Which word works best for this use and are there some guidelines about when each is appropriate, or are they interchangeable synonyms?

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There's also procurar. –  jrdioko Dec 27 '11 at 1:02
    
In almost all senses they are interchangeable, particularly in daily speech. Tratar de is most common, except for tasting something; probar must be used. –  Cayetano Gonçalves Feb 13 '12 at 5:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would say that they are synonyms, but not in all cases. So I'd distinguish several meanings of try:

  • Taste, sample, or otherwise test in order to determine strength, effect, worth, or desirability.

In that meaning the only possibility is "Probar".

E.g. I have never tried the Spanish omelette.
Nunca he probado la tortilla de patata.

E.g. You can try the car to check it's worth it.
Puedes probar el coche para comprobar que merece la pena.

  • To make an effort; strive; endeavor.

In this case it would be translated as "intentar", "tratar de", "procurar"; but not as "probar a".

E.g. They tried to win the match but they couldn't.

Intentaron ganar el partido pero no pudieron.

Trataron de ganar el partido pero no pudieron.

Procuraron ganar el partido pero no pudieron.

  • To attempt, to have a go

It can be translated as "intentar", "tratar de" or "probar a".

E.g. As he couldn't open the front door he tried to open the back door.

Como no podía abrir la puerta delantera intentó abrir la puerta trasera.

Como no podía abrir la puerta delantera trató de abrir la puerta trasera.

Como no podía abrir la puerta delantera probó a abrir la puerta trasera.

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"Nunca he probado la tortilla de patata." - For some reason I want to translate this as "I have never tasted a Spanish Omelette." –  Cayetano Gonçalves Feb 13 '12 at 5:02
    
@Serdar, I would say "I have never tried..." and "I have never tasted..." would both be correct translations for "Nunca he probado..." when speaking of a food. –  Rachel Mar 1 '12 at 2:30

If you look at the Google translation, you will notice all these alternatives are offered for the beginning of the sentence:

  • Voy a tratar de
  • Voy a intentar
  • Trataré de
  • Intentaré
  • Trataré (wrong)

So, for this usage, intentar and tratar de are synonymous. Of course there might be regional preferences for any of the 4 ways to write it, but they all mean exactly the same and will be understood by everyone.

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And of course we can't always trust Google Translate's expertise so I'd like to hear from our experts here too who are not computers (-: –  hippietrail Dec 26 '11 at 20:37
1  
Well, how can you be sure I'm not a computer? :-D Google is right in this case, except for the one I pointed out. –  Diego Mijelshon Dec 26 '11 at 20:39

Not all of what has been said previously, has been absolutely correct in terms of Tratar and Intentar.

  • Probar has a very clear difference and has been elucidated and made distinct very well. Probar is used for testing out, trying food, trying on clothes, for example.
  • Tratar is to try to do something, to attempt, have a go at, and also means to treat, as in the manner of behaviour you exhibit to a person.
  • Intentar is to intend to, to mean to do something.

It is a subtle difference, but with tratar, to try to do something is to make the attempt (when used in the present tense), whereas with intentar, it is to have the intention of doing it while used in the present tense, and not necessarily be engaged in actively doing it.

Intentar in the present tense is more closely equivalent to tratar in the future tense (although there is a nuance and it is not entirely the same). For example,

"I intend to go to the party" = "I will try to go to the party".

"Intento ir a la fiesta" o "Trataré de ir a la fiesta".

Note Tratar requires the "de" after, Intentar does not.

How people actually use the verbs, however, is not necessarily reflective of their actual meaning.

In simple terms:

  • Probar = to test / try out
  • Tratar = to try (to do something) / to attempt / to treat (someone in a certain manner)
  • Intentar = to have the intent to / to mean to / to be going to be attempting to / to be expecting to be making the effort to do something with uncertainty as to the actual outcome
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So what would give words their meaning other than how people use them? –  hippietrail Jun 11 '13 at 3:38

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