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What preposition should we use to start a sentence where we first explain a purpose and then a method to achieve it?

Example 1

Purpose = pass the exams

Method = study a lot

  • In order to pass the exams, you have to study a lot.

  • To pass the exams, you have to study a lot.

  • *For passing the exams, you have to study a lot. (incorrect - see accepted answer)

Example 2

Purpose = find an object in the database

Method = run a SQL query

  • In order to find the object in the database, users have to run a SQL query.

  • To find the object in the database, users have to run a SQL query.

  • *For finding the object in the database, users have to run a SQL query. (incorrect - see accepted answer)

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I've also noticed "for to" being used, especially by Irish people: "I studied a lot for to pass the exams". I don't know whether they would begin a sentence with "For to..." or whether it's generally accepted as correct. –  Nefrubyr Sep 17 '10 at 10:58
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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

"For passing" and "for finding" are not correct. "In order to" and "To" are correct, but I favour "To" because it is more concise:

To pass the exams, you have to study a lot.

To find the object in the database, users have to run a SQL query.

A more natural way of saying this is:

You have to study a lot to pass the exams.

Users have to run a SQL query to find the object in the database.

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+1 for "To" in place of "In order to". I had it explained to me once, "Describe an instance where "In order to" would have a different meaning than "to". Can't do it? Then why are you using the longer version? –  JohnFx Sep 16 '10 at 14:02
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It is also more concise to say "must" instead of "have to". –  kajaco Sep 16 '10 at 16:25
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"In order to" adds a little bit of redundancy and thus makes the sentence less likely to be misparsed. "He boarded a flight to Brazil in order to escape the law" –  Joel Spolsky Sep 17 '10 at 3:24
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According to BBC World Service, in order to "sounds a bit more formal and explicit" than to.

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'For to' is used by Irish (and some Scottish people) in place of 'for the purpose of' or 'in order to'. Using your example: 'I studied, for to pass the exam'. Instead of: 'I studied in order to pass the exam'. I have never heard anyone begin a sentence with 'for to' in this way though, it is usually used as a joining phrase to explicitly explain why something was necessary.

I would actually also say that that is the purpose of saying 'in order to' rather than just 'to'. Someone above has said 'in order to' serves no function as 'to' serves just as well. I disagree. In some contexts it underlines the fact a certain action was necessary for the desired outcome.

I.e. 'I studied to pass the exam' vs. 'I studied in order to pass the exam'. In the second example the onus is on the fact that studying was not just something you did because you wanted to pass an exam, it was something you did because it was essential to you achieving your goal of passing the exam. Language is subtle.

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I'm not sure it's particularly an Irish/Scottish thing, but it's certainly a declining usage. I think it's just that regional dialects often hang on to forms for some time after they've dropped out of mainstream usage. –  FumbleFingers Aug 22 '12 at 2:23
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This question could be improved by citing facts or references which support your answer. –  MετάEd Sep 17 '12 at 14:53
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