Bringing Order to “in order”

A minor quibble more than anything else, but when narrative space is tight in grant narratives, journal manuscripts, and abstracts of any sort, this might prove useful.

Adding the words “in order” in front of an infinitive phrase rarely clarifies or contributes to the meaning. For example, “In order to assess whether a protein upregulated with stress is causally involved in protection, we will …” However, I bet these fine investigators could just as well use the knockout mouse model to assess whether a protein is upregulated. (no order involved)

Sometimes, you do want to conduct sequential analyses in order of relevance or significance. However, you gain nothing and lose space by adding extra words in order to sound more erudite.

And speaking of infinitives, you can relax about splitting them. Sometimes. When the adverb modifying the infinitive would introduce confusion or ambiguity by its placement outside the full infinitive, by all means split away. Sometimes clefting the full infinitive permits an elegant and memorable structure that can be used to good effect. The point, dear reader, is that a nun will not be around to rap your knuckles for splitting infinitives. In general, the particle “to” prefers to be snuggled up to its infinitive but will graciously allow an interloper with just cause.

Consider the view of our friend and patron saint (of grammar) Henry Fowler: “The ‘split’ infinitive has taken such hold upon the consciences of journalists that, instead of warning the novice against splitting his infinitives, we must warn him against the curious superstition that the splitting or not splitting makes the difference between a good and a bad writer.”

This comes from The King’s English, which Henry published more than 100 years ago with his brother Francis to encourage writers to be more simple and direct in their style.

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