John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Watch your adverbs

In English, word order counts for a great deal, as this sentence from Baltimoresun.com illustrates:

Kevin P. Callahan was charged with negligent driving, failure to stop at a red signal, and failure to obey a traffic device last week after a two-month investigation of the crash at York and Corbett roads in northern Baltimore County.

The accident, as the second half of the sentence points out, occurred two months ago. That was when the negligent driving, failure to stop, and failure to obey happened. Last week was when the driver was charged, and so last week fits — or should fit — neatly into a little syntactic niche immediately after was charged.

3 comments:

  1. I would argue that this is clearer:

    Kevin P. Callahan was charged last week with negligent driving, failure to stop at a red signal, and failure to obey a traffic device after a two-month investigation of the crash at York and Corbett roads in northern Baltimore County.

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  2. Scribe, I think that's precisely John's point.

    Another problem is the writer's positioning of the adverbial prepositional phrase, "after a two-month investigation ... ." Specifically, it was not after a two-month investigation that Callahan drove negligently, failed to stop, and failed to obey; it was after a two-month investigation that he was charged.

    Moving the whole bit to the front of the sentence not only makes that clearer but also makes the sentence easier to read and understand:

    After a two-month investigation of the crash at York and Corbett roads in northern Baltimore County, Kevin P. Callahan was charged last week with negligent driving, failure to stop at a red signal, and failure to obey a traffic device.

    And a 41-word sentence needs every readability improvement the editor can muster.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I earlier today agreed that the adverb was misplaced.

    ReplyDelete