3

While editing a document, I noticed Microsoft Word flagged "In order to...." as bad grammar. The reason being that it is redundant because just saying "To" says the same thing. This seems like weird thing to flag as "In order to do X, we are doing Y" sounds more natural than "To do X, we are doing Y", because the "In order" part seems to emphasize that X is really what we care about. (This is just an example, I'm interested in understanding the grammar rule behind this flag)

I am also used to a culture of "redundancy is good", "redundancy reduces the chance of problems", "redundancy is more reliable"; So my understanding is that redundant language should be good, as it reduces the chance that the text (and its meaning) will get misread/misinterpreted. And while I see a lot of things online saying things like "redundancy is bad" and "avoid these redundant language", I don't see anything explaining why.

So why is redundancy bad? And why should I avoid it (aside from the fact that leaving colored squiggles under things would drive me crazy)? Or in other (redundant) words, if the sentence is still valid, why does this grammar rule exist?

  • 3
    Please visit Writing Stack Exchange for writing advice. See also: 1, 2. See usage notes here: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/in_order_to – NVZ May 19 '17 at 14:49
  • 5
    Hello and welcome. Just a couple of observations: first, don't take Word's pronouncements as gospel - treat it as advice but use your own judgment. Second, it may not be the redundancy that's good - perhaps it's clarity or reliability that your culture champions (saying the same words twice doesn't necessarily help, but conveying the same concept in different ways might). There's no blanket answer to your question - sometimes redundancy hides the important stuff, and sometimes it shows it off. – Lawrence May 19 '17 at 14:56
  • 2
    The grammar checker in Word is intended to make everyday communications easier to understand. If a particular recommendation is not helpful in your technical writing, ignore it. Many people inadvertently (or intentionally) add extra, nonsense phrases when they write something. – Davo May 19 '17 at 15:01
  • 1
    @Davo I agree, but I also have the rule "if you don't fully understand the purpose of a rule, don't break it" – Tezra May 19 '17 at 15:16
  • 6
    A good question. Redundancy is not bad. That's just one more zombie rule from a specific printing situation that some editors and teachers have generalized to all situations, with the usual chaotic result. Redundancy is a feature of natural language in all forms. Subject-verb agreement is redundancy, for instance. Redundancy is what allows us to understand one another, even given a noisy environment and natural stupidity. – John Lawler May 19 '17 at 15:51
3

Redundancy is neither good or bad by itself. It is a tool, which can be used well (for emphasis or, as you wrote, for reliability) or poorly (verbosely). I might be stating the obvious, but style is not a matter of "correct" and "wrong", like imperative grammar rules; it is rather a matter of good judgement (as well as taste).

I would go with the attic style ("characterized by purity, simplicity, and elegant wit"), keeping in mind that the aim is to make the text or speech easily understood. To avoid repeating a word, one could use personal pronouns or the like ("she", "he", "her", "him", "it", "the former", "the latter", ...), as well as synonyms. But as soon as the sentence becomes ambiguous or unwieldy, it might be better to repeat; and when the message appears too weak, it might be better to emphasize.

We all see the merit of reducing word count and we should certainly do it, when that cuts the clutter -- but never to the point of compromising clarity.

Back to your original question, banning "in order to" altogether seems a little far-fetched. Indeed the two additional words "in order" should be used for a purpose (emphasis or formality, see what Cambridge Dictionary has to say about this). So the decision would be on a case by case basis, with a preference for "to".

I would thus take this recommendation of Microsoft's spell checker for what it is: the output of a simplistic* algorithm based on probabilities ("to" is statistically more often appropriate than "in order to").


* Simplistic here is not meant to disparage the technology of spell checkers; it is relative to the nuances that a human being can perceive.

  • " neither good and bad by itself." Huh? – Kris Nov 2 '18 at 8:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.