Sometimes things don’t work out, no matter how hard you try.
One way to talk about that is to use the expression “to no avail,” but there are other options, too.
Let’s explore all the varied ways to express inevitable failure in English.
What is the meaning of “to no avail”?
The expression “to no avail” just means that something didn’t succeed.
Understanding the grammar of “to no avail”
The key to figuring out this odd-sounding phrase lies with the word “avail.”
Avail is essentially a synonym for “use,” “help” or “benefit,” and can be used identically in a sentence. That said, it’s not ever used outside of poetry and this expression.
The word is a noun in the expression “to no avail,” but it can also be broken out and used as a verb to say someone should seek out help.
For instance, if you wanted to tell someone to check out the campus writing center, you could tell them to “avail” themselves of it.
How to use “to no avail” in a sentence
There are several ways to use “to no avail” in a sentence. Because it’s used to show that a specific action didn’t succeed, you will need a verb phrase somewhere in your sentence.
The most common method is simply to place this expression after the verb phrase that shows the action that didn’t work out.
You don’t need a comma in front of the expression in most, if not all, cases, but if your sentence continues after the expression, you will sometimes need one afterward. That isn’t because of a rule with this specific expression, though.
Alternatively, you can make this phrase part of a dependent clause by putting a comma after the main clause and adding “but it was to no avail” on the end.
Finally, you can insert it directly after the verb and then place the rest of the verb phrase after “to no avail.”
You don’t need a comma for this option, most of the time, but sometimes it is appropriate to set the expression off with a comma before and after it.
There are subtly different nuances to these three constructions, but the overall meaning is the same.
Here, “to no avail” is set after the main verb in the verb phrase “tried to fly down.”
It should be no surprise that the man was not able to fly, so the expression “to no avail” is nonessential information here. That’s why it’s set off from the rest of the sentence with commas.
Here, “to no avail” is moved into a dependent clause and placed after a comma. The implication is not that the woman was unable to take the bus home, but that despite her speed she was unable to stop her mother.
This is the most common usage of “to no avail,” where the expression is simply added onto the end of the main clause.
A comma appears after “avail” only because a comma is required in this case before moving to the subordinate clause.
What is the difference between “to no avail” and “in vain”?
A related expression to “to no avail” is “in vain.”
This expression comes from the word “vain,” but doesn’t have anything to do with someone who’s conceited about their appearance.
Instead, this expression takes its meaning from the second definition of “vain,” where the word means “useless” or “unsuccessful.”
Conveniently, the three ways to use this expression are the same as the ways to use “to no avail.”
Are there other alternatives for “to no avail”?
The expression “to no avail” is just one of several options to describe a failed attempt.
Here are a few others. The nice thing is that the way to use most of them is the same.
To no purpose
The word “avail” has been switched out for “purpose” here.
Again, the meaning is the same, and the expression is used in the same three ways as with “to no avail.”
This example appears to be using a different structure, but the main verb is actually “were,” not “clone.”
If something was “for nothing,” that means it was a failure. More poetically, you can also say “for naught.”
This is perhaps the most obvious alternative. Not only does it mean the same thing as “to no avail,” but its meaning is immediately apparent.
The usage is the same as “to no avail” with the bonus that you can also place this word before the verb phrase.
The words “fruitlessly” and “vainly” can also be used this way.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.