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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Criminal Sentence 404: Check for Ambiguity at Once!

From a book I am reading:

"The footmen took charge of any packages that were required at once."

The scene is 19th-century London: Passengers are getting ready to depart and the workers are loading bags. This sentence suggests that the packages were required at once, not that the footmen took charge at once.

Make sure that adverbs go next to what they modify, especially if more than potential words populate the sentence (here, "to take charge" and "to require"). In this case, I think I prefer "immediately":

"The footmen immediately took charge of any packages that were required."

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