Answers to Questions About Usage
Many writers — native English speakers and nonnative speakers alike — are confounded by uncertainty or confusion about usage, the complicated issue of what, exactly, a given word means regardless of its practical or official definition. Here are some questions and comments Daily Writing Tips readers have sent me about definitions and connotations, along with my responses.
1. One of the words I hear all the time, which I believe is improperly used, is hopefully, as in “Hopefully, we’ll be successful.” I’d love to hear your thoughts about using this word — hopefully, you’ll agree with me.
For better or worse, in the usage you abhor, hopefully is firmly established, and employment in its original sense (“in a hopeful manner,” as in “I waited hopefully for her response”) has all but disappeared. The only thing one can do to curtail its use is avoid using it oneself, but this is a case in which the people have spoken: The new sense will prevail.
2. For the past few years, I’ve been noticing the use of “only ever,” as in “I only ever stay on the weekends.” Isn’t ever unnecessary and perhaps incorrect?
Yes, ever is an extraneous intensifier. It’s not incorrect, but it should be avoided in formal writing.
3. May “Thank you for correcting me” sound ironic in Modern English? I once used it and got negative feedback. And I think it has pejorative connotation in English, though in my mother tongue it’s just a way to express gratitude or thanks.
Yes, “Thank you for correcting me” looks perfectly neutral, but it’s not: In English, the notion of correcting someone has a negative connotation, like being criticized or scolded, and someone who receives that comment from you may assume that you’re resentful for the assistance.
Depending on the situation, it would be better to say or write, “Thank you for providing me with the correct information” (less concise, but neutral in tone) or “Thank you for clarifying that for me.” In American English, at least, an informal, friendly way to acknowledge correction is “Thanks for setting me straight.”
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