"In order to" is more formal and common in writing. It can also be used for emphasis. "To" usually sounds more natural.
"To" and "in order to" are compound prepositions that have an infinitive as their object. Both are frequently used to express the purpose of something.
The passenger needs a valid passport in order to travel abroad.
The passenger needs a valid passport to travel abroad.
What's the difference?
- "In order to" is more formal. It is also more common in writing (e.g., "The doctor should try to reduce inflammation in order to prevent tissue damage.")
- "To" usually sounds more natural (e.g., "Margaret lied to please her father.")
- "To" is also much more common in everyday English (e.g., "Use the knife to cut bread.")
- Use "to" to craft concise and direct sentences. "In order to" may sound wordy in some contexts (e.g., "I bought Olivia a dozen roses to surprise her.")
- "In order to" can be used for emphasis, that is, to stress the purpose or intent of something (e.g., "They did it in order to steal, kill, and destroy.")
- "In order to" is always followed by an infinitive (e.g., "in order to prevent infections").
- "To" can be followed by an infinitive or a noun (e.g., "to win", "to New York").
- "To" can always replace "in order to". "In order to", by contrast, cannot always replace "to".