Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why I Have Come to Accept "Hopefully" As a Sentence Adverb

Hopefully, after you read this post, you will understand my point.

The intended meaning of that sentence is: "I hope that, after you read this post, you will understand my point."

While the average reader almost certainly inferred the intended meaning of my sentence, many grammarians would say that the actual meaning of the sentence is: "After you read this post, you will, in a hopeful manner, understand my point."

Technically, the adverb "hopefully" should modify the verb "understand" instead of describing the author's feelings toward the rest of the sentence. Many grammarians would prefer "I hope that" to "Hopefully" in a sentence such as the one above. And, if I hadn't been using the sentence to illustrate a point, I would have used "I hope that" myself.

"I hope that" works great as an alternative to "hopefully" in sentences that can be written in the first person. In sentences without an identifiable speaker, substituting for "hopefully" is more difficult. For example:

Hopefully, after adding the half-and-half, your Alfredo sauce will assume the proper consistency.

Were I typing that sentence in an e-mail to a friend, "I hope that" would work. Were I to write it on a recipe website whose readers don't expect the recipe to suddenly refer to itself in the first person, "I hope that" would not be appropriate. The best alternative in this situation would be, "It is hoped that," which is awkward, cumbersome, and uses the passive voice. ("If hopes are realized" is another alternative, but it has the same problems.) In my opinion the technically incorrect "Hopefully" is much better than "It is hoped that." As Wiktionary points out:

Many adverbs are used as sentence modifiers with somewhat less frequent objection such as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, and unfortunately. . . . Compare to the usage of regretfully, which does have the substitute regrettably.


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