Hopefully over?

Harry Ritchie, in English Grammar for the Natives (2013), writes that hopefully is “by far the most controversial adverbs of recent times” (p. 191). Usage of the adverb, he says, “has been met with fierce resistance”, and he quotes from Kingsley Amis’s usage guide, which reads that “when someone says or writes, ‘Hopefully, the plan will be in operation by the end of the year,’ we know immediately that we are dealing with a dimwit at best” (1998: 158).

Ritchie says that there are signs “that the resistance is nearly over”. Perhaps it is, but we can’t test it with the help of our regular usage surveys because the feature is not included in the study by Mittins et al. (perhaps because it wasn’t as yet as widespread as the others they deal with). So here is a separate usage poll, on hopefully only: please tell us what you think.

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3 Responses to Hopefully over?

  1. paulnance says:

    Word 2013 still flags the use of hopefully as a sentence modifier, but only when the word begins the sentence. For instance, it objects to “Hopefully, I will finish my article this afternoon.”, but not to “I will finish my article this afternoon, hopefully.” The software’s suggested improvement to the first sentence would be “I hope that I will finish my article this afternoon.”, to which it would then object because of the use of the first person pronoun in technical or formal writing.

  2. What’s really surprising is that anyone is still resisting. Garner seems to think that this is just about the only sentence adverb that’s illogical. (For some reason he also dislikes thankfully but not gratefully. I can’t for the life of me figure out the reasoning behind it.)

  3. Garner is hopeless on hopefully. His explanation of his view that sentence-adverb hopefully is wrong is flat-out inconsistent with what he says in two other entries (“hypallage” and “illogic”), and is hard to square with his approach in the entry on “-edly.” And when he tries to to explain why (in his view) hopefully differs from sentence adverbs such as curiously, he makes no sense whatever:

    Hopefully isn’t analogous to curiously (= it is a curious fact that), fortunately (=it is a fortunate thing that), and sadly (= it is a sad fact that). How so? Unlike all those other sentence adverbs, hopefully can’t be resolved into any longer expression involving a corresponding adjective (hopeful) — but only the verb hope (e.g. it is to be hoped that or I hope that).

    There are at least three problems with this.

    First, and most nitpickingly, he’s wrong when he says, “hopefully can’t be resolved into any longer expression involving a corresponding adjective (hopeful)”. It can be “resolved” into I am hopeful that….

    Second, what is this nonsense about adverbs being “resolved” into longer expressions? It sounds like a bastardized form of Chomskyan transformational grammar, in which his goal is to find the deep structure of adverbs, and the deep structure that he finds is totally made up. What Garner is really doing is coming up with rough paraphrases (very rough) of the adverbs, and his use of the word resolved is essentially linguababble.

    Finally, what difference does it make whether hopefully can be “resolved into [a] longer expression” that includes hopeful? None. There is no reason to care about Garner’s made-up (and inaccurate) distinction.

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