hopefully

It’s one of those topics in English usage that just will not die. It erupted on ADS-L yesterday, with this query from Dan Nussbaum:

In the sentence, “Hopefully, the sun will rise tomorrow” the word hopefully is being used incorrectly. What word should be used?

And then we were off on a familiar path. Larry Horn got in first, noting that there was nothing incorrect about the example; Lisa Galvin reported that she had a professor long ago who said that the proper usage should be I hope rather than hopefully, since as it stands the sentence says “that the sun itself is full of hope that it will rise tomorrow”; and Larry replied:

“Hopefully” is a sentence adverb in such contexts and has been used as such for decades — while also being a manner adverb in “The dog is sitting hopefully by her food dish”.  (Not arguing with Lisa here, but with her long-ago professor and my fellow [AHD] Usage Panelists who vote with the majority to condemn this perfectly ordinary and proper usage.)

Pretty much everyone who writes about English usage has taken on hopefully, and the informed consensus is solidly with Larry, but a bizarre irrational prejudice continues against sentence adverbial hopefully.

Some commentary. From MWDEU (p. 513):

To sum up: hopefully had been in sporadic American use as a sentence modifier for some thirty years before it suddenly caught fire in the early 1960s. What is newly popular will often be disparaged, and criticism followed rapidly, starting in 1962 and reaching a high point around 1975. There has been a considerable abatement in the fuss since and many commentators now accept the usage, but it seems safe to predict that there will be some who continue to revile it well into the next century. You can use it if you need it, or avoid it if you do not like it. There never was anything really wrong with it; it was censured, as Bolinger 1980 [Language -- The Loaded Weapon] notes, because it was new, and it is not very new any more.

Many sources (including OED2) point out the parallel to German hoffentlich and observe that the usage was originally AmE. OED2′s first cite was from 1932:

N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 24 Jan. 11/4   He would create an expert commission‥to consist of ex-Presidents and a selected list of ex-Governors, hopefully not including Pa and Ma Ferguson.

But now this has been improved to 1702, as in this NOAD2 usage note:

The traditional sense of hopefully, ‘in a hopeful manner’ (he stared hopefully at the trophy), has been used since 1593. The first recorded use of hopefully as a sentence adverb, meaning ‘it is to be hoped that’ (hopefully, we’ll see you tomorrow), appears in 1702 in the Magnalia Christi Americana, written by Massachusetts theologian and writer Cotton Mather [example unearthed by Fred Shapiro in 1999; Shapiro also found an 1851 cite and several more before the 1930s]. This use of hopefully is now the most common one. Sentence adverbs in general (franklyhonestlyregrettablyseriously) are found in English since at least the 1600s, and their use has become common in recent decades. However, most traditionalists take the view that all sentence adverbs are inherently suspect. Although they concede that the battle over hopefully is lost on the popular front, they continue to withhold approval of its use as a sentence adverb. Attentive ears are particularly bothered when the sentence that follows does not match the promise of the introductory adverb, as when frankly is followed not by an expression of honesty but by a self-serving proclamation (frankly, I don’t care if you go or not). See also usage at sentence adverb and thankfully.

The note introduces five further themes:

(a) the fact that sentence adverbial hopefully now considerably outnumbers manner adverbial hopefully;

(b) the parallel to other sentence adverbials in -ly, which have been around in English for centuries;

(c) a suspicion of sentence adverbials in general among some “traditionalists”;

(d) the persistence of a strong prejudice (in certain quarters) against hopefully specifically; and

(e) a suggested parallel with one other sentence adverbial, thankfully.

On point (a), here’s Mark Liberman on Language Log:

This morning, Arnold Zwicky took a look at the general question of whether language mavens’ advice to “Avoid Potential Ambiguity” is actually helpful in avoiding ambiguity. He focused on the particular case of sentence-adverbial hopefully, and part of his argument was that if you’re fluent in English,

you have to know that lots of people use hopefully as a sentence adverbial; it’s all over the place. (I haven’t run the numbers, but I’m sure that these days sentence-adverbial hopefully vastly dwarfs nominal-modifying hopefully in both colloquial and more elevated English.)

Well, here at Language Log, we aim to leave no number unrun. So I went to Mark Davies’ lovely “Corpus of American English” search page at BYU, and checked a sample of 100 instances of hopefully from each of the five genres that he offers: spoken, fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic. I assigned each example to one of the two categories “speaker-oriented” (i.e. sentence adverb meaning “it is to be hoped”) and “subject-oriented” (i.e. verbal adverb of manner, meaning “in a hopeful manner”).

… So we can quantify Arnold’s surmise. In spoken English, even in fairly formal settings, hopefully is not ambiguous, because it’s essentially never used as a manner adverb. In written English non-fiction, the manner-adverbial use is well below 10%, and probably below 5% in most genres. In fiction, the manner-adverbial usage is common, but largely limited to a few stereotyped cases — hopeful quotatives, hopeful looks and hopeful gestures account for the great majority of examples.

Since the speed and ease of linguistic perception generally tracks usage frequencies quite closely, we can turn these numbers into advice for writers. If you’re writing non-fiction, don’t use hopefully to mean “in a hopeful manner”. If you’re writing fiction, feel free to use hopefully as a manner adverb, but only to modify quotatives, verbs of looking, and verbs of motion with animate subjects. And don’t use it in dialogue.

If you want, go ahead and placate the crazies by avoiding the sentence-adverbial use of hopefully that means “it is to be hoped”. But don’t take their advice and actually use the manner-adverbial sense, at least not without thinking very carefully about what you’re doing.

More succinctly, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. (2009), pp. 427-8, an extensive article, with four main points, beginning with:

it was widely condemned from the 1960s to the 1980s. [Garner cites arguments from the time]

whatever the merits of those arguments, the battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of AmE, and it has all but lost its traditional meaning

On point (b), note that some sentence adverbials in -ly have been around so long that modern speakers are unlikely to appreciate their historical sources. In particular, certainly and surely:

Certainly, this wine is delicious. ‘it is certain that this wine is delicious’, NOT ‘this wine is certain in being delicious’

Clearly, you are upset. ‘it is clear that you are upset’, NOT ‘you are clear in being upset’

Point (c) was something of a surprise to me. But here’s the NOAD2 usage note on sentence adverb:

The traditional definition of an adverb is that it is a word that modifies the meaning of a verb, an adjective, or another adverb, as in, for example, he shook his head sadly . However, another important function of some adverbs is to comment on a whole sentence. For example, in the sentence sadly, he is rather overbearing, sadly expresses the speaker’s attitude to what is being stated. Traditionalists take the view that the use of sentence adverbs is inherently suspect and that they should always be paraphrased, using wording such as it is sad that he is rather overbearing. A particular objection is raised to the sentence adverbs hopefully and thankfully, since they cannot be paraphrased in the usual way (see usage at hopefully and thankfully). However, there is overwhelming evidence that such usages are well established and widely accepted in everyday speech and writing. [more on this below]

On point (d), here’s the AHD4 usage note on hopefully:

Writers who use hopefully as a sentence adverb, as in Hopefully the measures will be adopted, should be aware that the usage is unacceptable to many critics, including a large majority of the Usage Panel. It is not easy to explain why critics dislike this use of hopefully. The use is justified by analogy to similar uses of other adverbs, as in Mercifully, the play was brief or Frankly, I have no use for your friend. [note that, like hopefully and thankfullyfrankly also resists paraphrase with it + a predicate adjective] And though this use of hopefully might have been a vogue word when it first gained currency back in the early 1960s, it has long since lost any hint of jargon or pretentiousness for the general reader. The wide acceptance of the usage reflects popular recognition of its usefulness; there is no precise substitute. Someone who says Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified makes a hopeful prediction about the fate of the treaty, whereas someone who says I hope (or We hope or It is to be hoped) the treaty will be ratified expresses a bald statement about what is desired. Only the latter could be continued with a clause such as but it isn’t likely. [on the usefulness of hopefully, see below]

● It might have been expected, then, that the initial flurry of objections to hopefully would have subsided once the usage became well established. Instead, critics appear to have become more adamant in their opposition. In the 1969 Usage Panel survey, 44 percent of the panel approved the usage, but this dropped to 27 percent in our 1986 survey. (By contrast, 60 percent in the latter survey accepted the comparable use of mercifully in the sentence Mercifully, the game ended before the opponents could add another touchdown to the lopsided score.) It is not the use of sentence adverbs per se that bothers the Panel; rather, the specific use of hopefully in this way has become a shibboleth.

It’s the bullet point that’s so noteworthy here: the prejudice against sentence adverbial hopefully has actually been increasing in certain quarters — among people who see themselves as language sticklers, refined users — this while American usage has swung solidly in favor of the usage. A possibly contributing factor to the disparagement is the influence of The Elements of Style; two years ago Geoff Pullum directed us to

Look in recent editions of Strunk & White; the paragraph about hopefully as a modal adjunct there is a flailing, incoherent, repetitive sequence of howls of rage.

Garner’s succinct version of the shibboleth observation, in his third and fourth points:

some stalwarts continue to condemn the word, so that anyone using it in the new sense is likely to have a credibility problem with some readers

though the controversy swirling around this word has subsided, it is now a SKUNKED TERM. Avoid it in all senses if you’re concerned about your credibility: if you use it in the traditional way, many readers will think it odd; if you use it in the newish way, a few readers will tacitly tut-tut you.

(Here, as in a number of other cases, Garner is inclined to let the crazies win.) Meanwhile, John McIntyre has tried to understand what leads people to such usage views:

Apart from the peevers and sticklers, resistance to hopefully has faded, as the objection to contact as a verb faded before it. But the objections survive because they are simple, easy to remember, and convenient for labeling people. They are shibboleths, in the same sense as the word is used in Judges 12: a marker to identify People Who Are Not Like Us.

Finally, point (e), on the hopefully / thankfully parallel. Both originally, and still predominantly, American. Both spreading in the 1960s, at which point the usage critics piled on. Both now outnumbering their manner adverbial counterparts. The OED2 entry:

Let us be thankful (that); one is thankful to say. orig. U.S.

This use as a sentence adverb, like hopefully adv. 2, is deprecated by some writers.

The first cite is from 1966, in an example from Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage:  “The ‘suicide needle’ which—thankfully—he didn’t see fit to use.” Surely some earlier uses can be found.

NOAD2′s usage note:

Thankfully has been used for centuries to mean ‘in a thankful manner,’ as in : she accepted the offer thankfully . Since the 1960s, it has also been used as a sentence adverb to mean ‘fortunately,’ as in : thankfully, we didn’t have to wait. Although this use has not attracted the same amount of attention as hopefully, it has been criticized for the same reasons. It is, however, far more common now than is the traditional use.

Now, a note on the usefulness of hopefully, from a posting of mine about a handbook on business writing, in which we are warned to watch out for “four commonly misused words” — that vs. which, hopefully, and very:

Speaker-oriented (or “stance”) adverbial hopefully has been taking abuse pretty steadily for 30 or more years (see MWDEU). Linguists are mostly just baffled by this disparagement; see the discussion in the American Heritage Book of English Usage, where it’s noted that “hopefully seems to have taken on a life of its own as a shibboleth.” But the word fits right into long-standing patterns of the language  — cf. frankly in “Frankly, this soup stinks” and surprisingly in “Surprisingly, this soup is delicious” — and it provides a way of expressing the speaker’s attitude towards a proposition which is both (a) brief and (b) subordinate: “I hope that S”, “I have a hope that S”, “It is to be hoped that S”, and the like are wordier, and have the hoping expressed in a main clause (as the apparent main assertion), while what writers want is to assert the proposition provisionally, adding a modifier expressing their attitude towards it. So speaker-oriented hopefully is a GOOD thing, and it’s no surprise that it’s spread so fast.

My only surprise is that it took so long to spread. But things happen when they happen, even if the potential for the event has been around for some time.

 

5 Responses to “hopefully”

  1. the ridger Says:

    Word order, people! Why is it so hard for people to accept in this case something they accept without thought in others?

  2. Stan Says:

    I suspect the weird aversion to sentence-adverb hopefully is also fuelled by the influential AP Stylebook. My copy is a few years old, but I don’t think they’ve changed their entry essentially:

    It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us or we hope.

    My take on the word is here, for what it’s worth; it includes a brief assessment of hopefully‘s supposed status as a skunked term (Spoiler: I think it’s an overstatement), and the following suggestion about why the popular usage might invite so much disapproval:

    In the second half of the twentieth century, the occurrence of certain sentence adverbs grew rapidly, according to Robert Burchfield in The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (actually and basically are often criticised too). This might explain the concurrent surge in objections, but it doesn’t justify them.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Trey Harris on Google+ 4/5/12:

    I’m a bit confused by [from AHD4]: “Someone who says Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified makes a hopeful prediction about the fate of the treaty, whereas someone who says I hope (or We hope or It is to be hoped) the treaty will be ratified expresses a bald statement about what is desired. Only the latter could be continued with a clause such as _but it isn’t likely._”

    Why could only the latter be continued that way? “Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified, but it isn’t likely.” “I hope the treaty will be ratified, but it isn’t likely.” “It is to be hoped the treaty will be ratified, but it isn’t likely.” I know I have a bit of the linguist’s tin ear for ungrammatical utterances from having listened to so many, but to me, they all seem fine. If anything, the former (Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified, but it isn’t likely) seems a bit better, as it doesn’t admit the preposterous reading of “I hope the treaty will be ratified, but it isn’t likely [that I hope the treaty will be ratified].”

    I’m inclined to agree with this judgment on the hopefully example. I think that the writer of the AHD4 note took the difference between the monoclausal (hopefully) and the biclausal versions (with the verb hope) to be a matter of (truth-functional) semantics, but in fact I think it’s pragmatic, a difference in discourse organization (having to do with foregrounding vs. backgrounding, as I suggested in the quote at the end of my posting).

  4. Geoff Nunberg Says:

    I wrote that AHD usage note (for AHD3, in fact, but it was carried over to AHD4). The difference I was trying to get at is perhaps better captured by the pair “I hope I’ll survive to 105″ and “hopefully, I’ll survive to 105″ — to me, only the the second implies that the outcome is within the realm of possibility. Or think of it this way: when I ask the contractor when the work will be finished, I’d much rather hear “Hopefully we’ll be done by Thursday” than “I hope we’ll be done by Thursday.”

  5. The hopefully files « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    [...] AZBlog, 4/5/12: Hopefully (link) [...]

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