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Hopefully

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It suddenly occurred to me just now that the grammatical-purist objection to "hopefully" (that it shouldn't be used to mean "I hope") applies equally well to the common use of words like "actually." I had a momentary thought that this might make a good column topic (no, I haven't forgotten about the column, despite appearances to the contrary), but it turns out someone's already done that, much better and more authoritatively than I could have. Excellently as usual, Michael Quinion explains the hopefully controversy. Turns out it's another fairly recent issue; apparently nobody really objected to hopefully and its ilk until the mid-1960s.

6 Comments

Actually, I don't think it does apply to "actually". Frankly, I think the objection to "hopefully" is a sign of unnecessary language snobbery. Mercifully, though, and thankfully, it’s not an issue I’m forced to deal with very often; and, practically, there’s usually a way around it.


Bear with me as I venture into unfamiliar grammatical territory:

Isn't the problem with 'hopefully' that it is a misapplied sentence adverb? That is, nothing about the sentence is meant to exhibit hope; instead, it's the implied speaker who is hopeful.

There is no similar problem for 'actually', because its use indicates that the sentence it modifies is actual (presumably in contrast to some alternative). Come to think of it, my use of 'instead' above could be another illustration of an acceptable sentence adverb. (If, in fact, it is acceptable. Jed?)


I found this interesting tidbit (I was going to write “Interestingly, I found this tidbit” but I think that would be pushing my luck :)):

“In the USA, the tirade against [‘hopefully’] began around that date, reached a peak in the 1970s, and has substantially subsided since. In Britain, the fuss started rather later, and since the form was originally American, was also tinged with distrust of it as an upstart Americanism. The objection to it in the USA seem in part to have been based on a mistaken idea that it was a German term, hoffentlich, that had been transferred into English, so that arguments against it in the US were at times as chauvinistic as some of the later ones in Britain.”

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hop2.htm


I'm not about to speak up on proper usage, but am reminded of a letter to Miss Manners I read years ago. In it, the correspondent used the phrase "it is to be hoped" instead of "hopefully." Miss Manners was so pleased that she gushed (in her very limited way) about it. For some reason I have always remembered that, but, until now, have never heard another reference to it.


I think 'hopefully' is more similar to 'frankly' than 'actually'. In the sentence 'actually, I left the door open', the word 'actually' doesn't mean anything at all. It connotes a correction, perhaps, or an admission, but it doesn't mean that anything is actual, certainly not that the speaker is.
In the sentence 'hopefully, I left the door open' the word is like those parenthetical marks in playscripts.

Hamlet (hopefully): I left the door open, didn't I?

That's what 'frankly' does as well; it describes the speaker of the sentence. This is entirely different, by the way, from luckily, mercifully, or oddly.
By the way, the use of 'strictly' at the beginning of the sentence is even stranger, since it is only used contrariwise. It can't be said to describe the speaker as in
Hamlet (strictly): Adverbs only describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs

No, strictly is used to indicate that the speaker is not strict, but that he could be strict if he chose, and this is how he would do it were he to do so.
Anyway, I try not to use 'hopefully' in writing, as it gets up people's noses, but I have let it enter my conversation. I still prefer the 'I hope' construction where applicable.


Vardibidian wrote: In the sentence 'actually, I left the door open', the word 'actually' doesn't mean anything at all.

I'm not sure I follow you here. Putting the sentence in a likely context:

Hamlet: So you thought a burglar had broken in? Sorry about that. Actually, I left the door open.

'I left the door open' is the actual fact, as opposed to the hypothetical break-in. The use of 'actually' might not be strictly necessary, but it does apply a meaningful modification to the rest of the sentence.


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