Whether you have great intentions to complete a task or successfully convey your thoughts, the level of effort that you put into that task often directly affects the end result. We often use stock phrases like “in an effort to” as a way to describe that effort, but what does “in an effort to” mean?
“In an effort to” is an adverbial phrase that uses the noun “effort” to describe an attempt to do something laborious, strenuous, or that involves the exertion of mental or physical energy. We generally follow the expression with the action (verb) the subject takes to achieve the stated aim.
In this article, we will discuss the full meaning of the phrase and how to properly use it in your writing and conversation in an effort to improve your language fluency.
The Meaning of “In an Effort to”
“In an effort to” is a phrase that many use to express the process of trying to complete a formidable task with potentially successful results. The phrase doesn’t guarantee that the attempt is always fruitful, but it highlights the trial and exertion of energy.
The key word in the phrase is the noun “effort,” which has overlapping meanings with words like “work,” “endeavor,” “attempt,” “exertion,” or “try” (source).
“Effort” signifies a conscious attempt to exert power and complete a task with success. This exertion may involve physical or mental energy to move forward with an action or idea.
It is an adverbial phrase, which is a collection of words that modify the meaning of an adjective, verb, adverb, or sentence when we pair them together. For example, as a multi-word adverbial expression, phrases such as “in an effort to” help show how, when, why, or where a concept or action occurred (source).
Once we add the verb, typically an infinitive of purpose, we have an adverbial clause of reason or purpose. The adverbial clause then modifies another clause in a complex sentence, which we’ll discuss further in the next section.
At times, the “effort” someone uses can represent something challenging to do or something they would rather avoid doing. Either way, we generally use the phrase “in an effort to” to highlight some degree of struggle required to accomplish the object.
Saying “in an effort to” in conversation or including it in written text emphasizes the cause and effect relationship between what someone intends to achieve and why they seek to achieve it.
A similar phrase would be “in order to,” which also expresses some level of physical or mental energy exerted toward a particular goal.
How Do You Use “In an Effort to” in a Sentence?
The phrase “In an effort to” is very common in writing as well as in conversation. However, since we can generally use the word “to” in its place, it can come across as unnecessarily wordy in written texts where your goal is to be concise.
However, when we use it sparingly, we clearly state that someone made a hard-working attempt with anticipatory hope for a successful result.
So, how do we use this adverbial phrase properly in a sentence? Where does this expression work best in written language or conversation?
“In an effort to” is a prepositional phrase that begins with the preposition “in,” while the noun “effort” is the object of the preposition. Prepositional phrases can modify verbs or nouns, and when they modify verbs, we refer to them as adverbial phrases.
As we mentioned, this particular phrase is adverbial, and the preposition “to” indicates that the following verb is in the infinitive form.
This phrase is also a subordinating conjunction because we generally use it to form a dependent clause in a complex sentence. A complex sentence has at least one dependent clause and one independent clause (source).
For more on subordinating conjunction, make sure you read our article, “With that Being Said: Meaning and Use of This Common Phrase.”
A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own. If you attempt to use it on its own, what you end up with is a sentence fragment:
- In an effort to lose weight.
This example is a complete clause because it has a subject “effort” and a predicate saying something about that subject, but it is not a complete sentence because it does not express a complete thought.
Instead, we use it with an independent clause that does express a complete thought and could otherwise stand on its own. For example, “He avoided sweets” has a subject and a predicate and could stand on its own as a sentence. Adding the dependent clause “In an effort to lose weight” adds more context to the situation.
- In an effort to lose weight, he avoided sweets.
When we place the dependent clause at the beginning of the sentence, we generally place a comma at the end of the dependent clause. However, when the dependent clause comes after, we omit the comma.
- In an effort to change his diet, he stopped eating meat.
- In an effort to be polite, I offered her a glass of water.
- He performed the magic trick in an effort to impress the boy.
- She brought me coffee in an effort to cheer me up.
As you can see, in each instance, “in an effort to” points to some objective that the subject seeks to obtain, whether it’s losing weight, changing a diet, being polite, impressing a boy, or cheering someone up.
Examples of How to Use “In an Effort to”
“In an effort to” has several different uses that coincide with the context of an argument or situation. You can modify the phrase to adapt to the meaning of each spoken or written phrase.
Read more about similar phrases, such as “speaking of which,” that introduce additional information to your intention with the article “Speaking of Which: Meaning, Grammar, and Proper Usage.”
Because it functions as an adverbial phrase, “in an effort to” often modifies verbs to describe the action taking place in a sentence. When we pair it with the various verbs that we listed before, the phrase takes on several meanings that can help vary and improve your formal language in written text or conversation.
“In an Effort to Ensure”
When we pair it with the verb “ensure,” the resulting clause “In an effort to ensure” means to attempt to make certain. In other words, someone is looking for a guarantee that something will happen.
We have prohibited nonessential travel in an effort to ensure a safe flight.
“In an Effort to Do”
Similarly, we can add the transitive verb “do” and its necessary object to form the adverbial clause “In an effort to do ____.” The verb “do” means to bring about something, as in the following sentence.
I tried to clean up my room in an effort to do something good for my mom.
“In an Effort to Improve”
“In an effort to improve” is a clause that uses the verb “improve” to state an intention to perform in a better manner. In other words, someone wants to increase their chances of successfully achieving their goal by improving the way they do something.
I studied all night in an effort to improve my test score.
“In an Effort Towards”
The adverbial phrase “in an effort towards” uses the preposition “towards” to express an intention to move forward with a different result — the preposition points in the direction of a particular goal.
We decided to go to counseling in an effort towards a better relationship.
Also, it would be more common to use “toward” instead:
We decided to go to counseling in an effort toward a better relationship.
Alternatives for “In an Effort to”
As we alluded to earlier, one of the main downsides to the phrase “in an effort to” is that it tends to be a little bit wordy compared to simply using alternatives like “to.” Thus, while it is fine to use this phrase sparingly in your writing, using it too often can come across as filler text for professional and academic writing.
By exploring alternative options and synonyms for the phrase “in an effort to,” you can diversify your tone and keep your writing clear, formal, and engaging. Concise language allows you to clearly convey a message in an educated tone, so we’ve provided some common synonyms for “in an effort to” (source).
Common “In an Effort to” Synonyms
The most common synonyms for our phrase include “to,” “so that,” and “in order to.”
As we’ve already alluded to, the simplest solution of them all is to reduce “In an effort to” down to simply “to.” By replacing the phrase with the simplified “to,” you can convey the same essential idea while preventing your writing from becoming too flowery or overworked.
Consider the following sentence examples for comparison:
- The boy started singing in an effort to calm the baby.
- The boy started singing in an attempt to calm the baby.
- The boy started singing to calm the baby.
As you can see, the preposition “to” on its own indicates movement toward something or purpose, so using the noun “effort” is not entirely necessary. Still, while this is more concise, adding “effort” and the rest of the phrase does help to emphasize the level of effort exerted by the subject.
Another excellent alternative that will allow you to change up your word use is “so that.” However, “so that” is a conjunction that functions differently, so this alternative requires you to restructure your sentence a bit more.
Consider this revised version of the previous example:
- The boy started singing so that he could calm the baby.
Notice how the sentence would not make any sense if we simply swapped out the terms. For example, you could not say, “The boy started singing so that calm the baby.”
We typically use conjunctions to combine phrases, sentences, or clauses. We use the conjunction “so that” to indicate the purpose or the desired goal and to introduce a subordinate clause.
When we attempt to use “so that” in place of “to,” the second clause is incomplete because it doesn’t have a subject. We also have to add the modal auxiliary verb “could” to indicate ability. While this option allows us to vary our word usage, it is obviously not the most efficient option.
“In Order to”
Somewhere in between “in an effort to” and “to” is the option “in order to.” We can easily swap this phrase out for the previous examples with no need to alter the sentence.
- The boy started singing in order to calm the baby.
This phrase also means “for the purpose of” using the noun “order.” As a noun, “order” indicates intentionality, purpose, or organization.
Other synonyms for “in an effort to” would include “Aiming to,” “Seeking to,” “Attempting to,” and “Trying to.”
“In Pursuit of”
Similar phrases that require a gerund would include “In pursuit of” and “With a focus on.”
- The boy started singing in pursuit of calming the baby.
- The boy started singing with a focus on trying to calm the baby.
Both phrases require a noun or a gerund, which is a verb that functions as a noun. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Other phrases that use gerunds would include “With the purpose of” and “With the aim of.”
We use “in an effort to” to convey the mental or physical energy spent when attempting to complete a task or idea, particularly when trying to complete an action that is difficult or strenuous.
It does not suggest that the exerted energy always results in a successful attempt but highlights what the subject intends to accomplish. Also, as a subordinating conjunction, we cannot use this phrase independently but only as part of a dependent clause modifying an independent clause.
At times, this phrase is considered wordy or flowery and can be replaced with synonyms or alternatives to make your writing more concise. Still, it is an acceptable phrase to use in your writing or conversation, but it is one you should avoid repeating too often as it can weigh your message down.