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December 19, 2011  |  "In order" to clarify meaning  |  9921 hit(s)

Not long ago I posted about terms that just bug me. One of the commenters suggested the addition of in order to, on the theory that it's just grandiloquence. This isn't untrue. For example, the BBC suggests that in order to and just plain to "convey exactly the same meaning when conveying purpose."

However, sometimes I actually find myself inserting in order to. This is not because I love wordiness, haha, but because there are contexts in which it helps disambiguate a phrase. Consider these examples:

The method is required to support binary conversion.
The method is required in order to support binary conversion.

The target server is a setting that you add to publish data.
The target server is a setting that you add in order to publish data.

It's a prerequisite that you need to deploy a web site.
It's a prerequisite that you need in order to deploy a web site.

You can assign query strings to the Query property to return data.
You can assign query strings to the Query property in order to return data.

Sign In To Download Credentials
Sign In In Order To Download Credentials

The phrase in order to introduces a so-called infinitive phrase. If the phrase that follows to can be interpreted as either an infinitive phrase or as a noun phrase, it's advisable to include in order to disambiguate. This tends to come up with verbs that have a phrasal relationship with the preposition to. As you can see, examples include add [to], need [to], assign [to], required [to], and like [to].

Of course, native speakers can often tell from context what the intended meaning is. In our case, tho, we know that we have many readers who read English as a second language. And one of our "readers" is also machine translation program, which is getting better, but which needs all the help that we can offer for disambiguating constructions.

Scott Berry   20 Dec 11 - 4:26 AM

I put the names in order to see which was third.

Brian   20 Dec 11 - 5:02 AM

I admit that "in order to" is one of those constructions that's other people's pet peeve, and I do all the time. It took me years to eliminate it from my writing, and I wasn't entirely successful. Imagine my surprise the first time a Microsoft editor inserted it into a doc I'd written. When I checked the style guide and found it out was not just allowable, but preferred. I believe I literally banged my head on my desk.

Jonathon   20 Dec 11 - 10:01 AM

Good post, Mike. I think a lot of editors learn to reflexively delete things like "in order to" and other function words, but they usually don't stop to ask whether they're helping or hurting. Those words aren't always just filler. I also frequently find myself inserting "that" into relative and complement clauses where it's been omitted.

Kemp   20 Dec 11 - 12:21 PM

I stand corrected on this phrase :) I wasn't suggesting eliminating it automatically from everything of course, and you give some good examples of it being used usefully. That first one, especially, is a good example - I understand the unintended meaning for that one if not given any other cues.

mike   20 Dec 11 - 2:41 PM

@Kemp, yeah, I didn't mean to suggest that in order to is always necessary, and it definitely is optional -- hence removable -- in many cases.

I just ran across another example in something I was reading:
A powerful feature of the custom encoding behavior is that you don't have to explicitly change any code for a page in order to use a different encoding library.
@Jonathan -- we also add that a lot to mark relatives, for clarity. It's not often absolutely necessary, but it does clarify and in most cases is not too awkward or verbose.