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Are there any differences (general or regional differences) between "in order to", "so that" and "so as to"?

I've seen that they may be interchangeable, but I'm not so sure.

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Those are largely similar; however, from here and here:

  • in order to and so as to are more formal and used before verbs like know, seem, understand: ... I asked in order to know....
  • so that is less formal - and often reduced to so in informal use. It also is used with modal verbs like can: ... so that I can ...
  • so that and in order to need a subject/verb: ... I did this so that I could...

Google Ngrams gives, for American English (red = so that, blue = in order to, orange = so as to):

enter image description here and for British English:

enter image description here

Doesn't look like there is much of a difference between American and British English in that matter.

  • 1
    Note that these days in order to is deprecated in some style guides that recommend to instead, which could function exactly as the longer version. It will be difficult to isolate such a use of to through nGrams, though. – Kris Jan 24 '13 at 6:10
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verb1 + to + verb2: verb2 has simple, direct relationship (usually a purpose) with verb1.

I bought a coke to drink.

verb1 so as to verb2: verb2 is a resulting action one hopes to get from verb1. Therefore, verb1 and verb2 may not directly related in common understanding.

I work hard in order to save money for a vacation this year.

In order to is a formal way of saying so as to.

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