Hopefully Speaking

By Sharon

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Pedantry or laxity? Upholding standards or lapsing into colloquialism? When it comes to using hopefully, these are the terms that are often thrown around. Here’s why.

As an adverb, hopefully originally meant in a hopeful manner (example: the dog waited hopefully for a bone) and that is still the primary meaning given in most dictionaries. That usage corresponds with other similar adverbial usage, such as happily (in a happy manner) or miserably (in a miserable manner). Those who are sticklers for correct and standard usage maintain that this is the only proper way to use hopefully.

However, much of the world disagrees. The use of hopefully as a sentence modifier to mean it is hoped that has been around since the 1930s and has been in common use since the 1960s. The analogy here is with words like mercifully (example: Mercifully, the concert was short) and frankly (example: Frankly, I don’t care what you think). Thanks to more than 75 years of colloquial usage, the second meaning is now standard in both speech and writing.

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5 Responses to “Hopefully Speaking”

  • Mari

    Am doing my best to learn to avoid adverbs in my writing at all – except when my brain goes blank. Then, I highlight the word and come back to it. I was taught in school that “hopefully” is a word to avoid all the way around anyway – iirc, my teachers said that it was almost always used wrong. 😉

  • Jacob

    I didn’t know that at all! It is a good thing, then, that I prefer ‘With any luck’ to my incorrect usage of ‘hopefully.’ After all, that means that while I was ignorant about the lot of that, nobody knew–and that’s the important part.

  • Sharon

    Yes, my teachers said the same, Mari.

    Jacob, that’s a good alternative. Although the meaning is slightly different, it’s one you can use to get by.

  • D. Dhebar

    I agree with the so-called ‘sticklers’. Whilst it is true that language changes, many are clearly unnecessary. Our beautiful laguage is being vulgarized by its native speakers, from both sides of the pond, and is fast becoming an implosive mess.

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