My 2009 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook has this to say about hopefully:
It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope or we hope.
The 2012 edition of the AP Stylebook reverses that dictum. Professional writers who follow that guide may now use the word to mean “it is hoped,” “we hope” and “let us hope” without opprobrium.
It’s gratifying that AP has finally acknowledged that hopefully can be used as a modal adjunct as well as a manner adjunct–especially as English speakers have been using it that way for at least eighty years.
Used as a “manner adjunct,” an adverb answers the question “how?” about a verb, as in “He saw her clearly.”
Used as a “modal adjunct,” an adverb modifies the entire sentence, as in “Clearly, he saw her at the coffee shop.” Here the word doesn’t tell “how” he saw, but that–without any doubt–he saw her.
Because the AP change of attitude has stirred such fury among so many, I wanted to see what Fowler had to say about hopefully in his landmark work Modern English, published in 1926. He had nothing to say about hopefully, but plenty about the misuse of the verb hope.
Hopefully is absent also from Horwill’s Modern American Usage (OUP, 1935).
According to an article by Geoffrey Pullum in the Chronicle of Higher Education, usage specialist Wilson Follett (1886-1963) started the trouble with hopefully, calling its modal use “unEnglish and eccentric.”
Although Strunk had made no mention of the despicable use of hopefully in the original version of Elements of Style, and although editor and expander E.B. White did not think to include it in his 1959 revision, he inserted it with an emotional note in the 1972 revision:
Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. …it offends the ear of many…who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.
I suspect that this testy note in the over-venerated Elements has had a lot to do with spreading Follett’s prejudice. William Safire, who wrote a respected column on language for the NY Times Magazine from 1979 until his death in 2009, at first rejected, but then accepted the modal use of hopefully; he was called “a lousy quitter” for his trouble.
Both the OED and Merriam-Webster include definitions for the modal use of hopefully. The earliest recorded use in the OED is dated 1932; M-W notes that an 18th century (1702) example has been found in a book written by Cotton Mather. OED warns that “many writers avoid it.” M-W says that the word still has “a few die-hard critics,” but concludes that “most usage commentators have by now come to realize that it is entirely standard.”