John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Watch your adverbs

In English, word order counts for a great deal, as this sentence from 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.