Somebody call the orderly

Chris Pat suggests:

A very over-used and misused phrase is “in order to.

“In order to” really did have a meaning — to perform tasks in the order they were given, because to perform them out of order would not allow the operation to be a success.


  1. Open box.
  2. Remove radio.
  3. Insert batteries.
  4. Turn radio on.
  5. Tune to your favorite station.

These tasks must be performed “in order” or you cannot listen to your
favorite station. Technical manuals have many tasks that must have each
step performed in the correct order or the process cannot succeed.

However, it is used far too often now, and usually without any tasks that
must be performed in any particular order. Quite often, it is with one
task, and how can a single task be performed in order or out of order?

Also, it is redundant when used in a lead-in sentence to a numbered task.
The fact that the list is numbered rather than bulleted implies a numeric
order is required. Almost all can be written without the “in order” and the
meaning is still clear such as:

Go to the store in order to get milk.

Go to the store to get milk.

Perform the tasks in this list in order to configure the router.

Perform the tasks in this list to configure the router.

3 thoughts on “Somebody call the orderly

  1. I have no doubt that my use of the English language will spawn much contempt and derision among the readers of this page. My only defence is that I am a foreign student of English, whose primary sources of knowledge of your language are TV and academic writings, and whose chief written productions are “laid-back” e-mails and linguistically unimaginative academic papers. For all of these reasons I am a walking fountain of clich

  2. I agree with Jacqueline R. Levin and detect no trace of ESL in her writing.

    As for CP, he seems to be the victim of folk etymology of the sort that comes up with “vegetable: vegetation that is etable.”

    The problem with “in order to” is that it is a longer expression where a shorter will usually do.

    It may sometimes be needed, though, to avoid confusion or awkwardness.

    Which is better? “He pushed the door to to stop the draft” or “He pushed the door to in order to stop the draft.”

    Admittedly, in this example, a redraft would be better than either version: “He shut the door to stop the draft.”

    Another example, perhaps better: “He needs a good talking-to in order to stiffen his spine.” Maybe the “in order” could be dropped in speech, where the “to to” can be handled by vocal inflection, but in writing the use of “in order” helps the reader.

    Of course this example too could be redrafted, but at the loss of the particular expression “talking-to.” The flavor would be changed.

    Besides, the fact that you can draft around a word or expression is not evidence that there’s anything wrong with it. English is so rich that almost anything can be said more than one way.