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What is the difference between "cercare di", "tentare di" e "provare a", when they mean "to try/to attempt to accomplish something" or "to try/experience something" in English ?

Examples:

  • Cercherò di/tenterò di/proverò a scalare la montagna più alta del mondo (= I will try/attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world)

  • Voglio cercare di/tentare di/provare a scalare una montagna (per sapere come ci si sente) (= I want to try/experience climbing a mountain).

According to https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/cercare-di-provare-tentare.110053/ , "tentare di" has a sense of failure attached to it - so using tentare for the future would mean that you aren't hopeful that the subject would be successful. According to https://www.italki.com/question/362140, "cercare" cannot be used alone (eg Io sto cercando). Is that right? Are there any other differences in meaning or usage?

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In both sentences the three can be used interchangeably to express the same meaning.

“Tentare” can have a sense of failure, especially in expressions such as “un tentativo fallito” or “tentare invano” but it is in no way the only meaning the word can have.

You are absolutely right in saying that you cannot use “cercare” alone, as in that case the word has a very different meaning (“(io) sto cercando” means “I am looking for”).

Hope To have cleared all the doubts you had :)

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  • Benvenuto su Italian.SE! – Charo Aug 23 '19 at 11:53
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    @AlanEvangelista I asked a few of my friends just to be sure of giving you the best answer possible (we are all native speakers). The general consensus was that no, “Tenterò di scalare la montagna” does not imply a lack of faith nor does it imply failure. If you really want to be precise “tentare” has a connotation of greater uncertainty compared to the other options, but it is a difference that with most native speakers goes unnoticed (unless you are an Italian professor). “Tentare” does imply failure when you combine it with the word “invano” (in vain) to form a sentence such as [...] – Marcel Ferrari Aug 23 '19 at 19:51
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    @AlanEvangelista [...] “Tenterà invano di scalare la montagna.” (3rd p. sing. as the sentence wouldn’t make much sense otherwise) which implies that according to your opinion, he will fail at climbing the mountain. In fact “tentare” is the verb that probably gets paired up with “invano” the most. As for the uncertainty connotation, you can often hear sentences such as “I soccorritori stanno tentando di salvare le vittime del terremoto.” (“The rescuers are trying to save the victims of the earthquake”) which obviously does not imply a lack of faith, but rather a lack of certainty. :) – Marcel Ferrari Aug 23 '19 at 20:00
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    @AlanEvangelista yes indeed! It is important though that you introduce a “proposizione subordinata” (as you did) or a “proposizione coordinata” (which is most commonly introduced by “e”) otherwise all three options will acquire a meaning of failure. Let me explain with an example: if you say “Ho tentato di sedurla.” (I tried to seduce her.) it “automatically” means that you did not succeed. However if you introduce for example a “proposizione coordinata” like “e ci sono riuscito.” (and I was able to.) the sentence acquires the opposite meaning [...] – Marcel Ferrari Aug 23 '19 at 21:07
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    @AlanEvangelista [...] (i.e. “Ho tentato di sedurla e ci sono riuscito.” which means “I tried to seduce her and I succeeded in doing so.”). Please note that in the case of seducing women, the verb “tentare” is usually avoided as it sounds a bit weird (it reeks of desperation). Also don’t use the adverb “duramente” when talking about seducing women as it means “severely”/“harshly”as in “severely”/“harshly punished” (“punito duramente”). :) – Marcel Ferrari Aug 23 '19 at 21:14

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