If you’ve never come across the complaints about hopefully, you might be surprised by the fuss it attracts. It’s one of those familiar but divisive words with a regular slot in style guides and usage dictionaries.
The AP Stylebook (2007 edition) says: “It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us or we hope.” The trouble is, most people who speak English (at least in my experience) use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope, or we hope – that is, as a sentence adverb. I use hopefully both ways, and I like having this option. Declaring that it’s wrong to do so is, frankly, a lost cause: a futile attempt to deny or halt a natural drift in language.
I mentioned hopefully in a previous post about skunked words – though to call it skunked might be overstating matters. Except in rare instances where ambiguity is possible, no one who hears the popular usage is confused by it. Regrettably, however, people will be misled about its acceptability if they rely excessively or exclusively on the AP Stylebook. Maybe hopingly or hopeably will come into fashion, but I doubt it.
Adverbs have been used to qualify entire clauses and sentences for centuries. Clearly, it’s a useful feature, one I’ve made use of in this very sentence and elsewhere in this post. In the second half of the twentieth century, the occurrence of certain sentence adverbs grew rapidly, according to Robert Burchfield in The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (actually and basically are often criticised too). This might explain the concurrent surge in objections, but it doesn’t justify them.
Hopefully started out meaning “in a hopeful” manner. It later took on another sense. Words do this. Arguing that the older meaning is the only legitimate one (see also: decimate) will soon get you in trouble because, as Gabe Doyle points out in his post about hopefully at Motivated Grammar, “if you’re not willing to use a non-original meaning of a word, you’re going to have to excise a substantial portion of your vocabulary”.
Hopefully is fine – and standard – as a sentence adverb. Seriously. Insisting otherwise smacks of obstinacy. John E. McIntyre, on his You Don’t Say blog, writes: “Stubbornly, this superstition refuses to go away, and sadly, no amount of explanation suffices to wipe it out.” Mercilessly, I’ve added my two cents. Usefully, language is big enough, old enough and flexible enough to accommodate more than one meaning per word.Email this Post