The second definition (“I hope that”, used as a sentence adverb has been criticized by some usage writers although it is by far the most commonly used sense of the word. Many adverbs are used as sentence modifiers with somewhat less frequent objection such as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, and unfortunately. Unlike for many such shifts in meaning that occur in English, the portion of the American Heritage Dictionary's Usage Panel that condones the second sense of the word has decreased from 1969 to 2000, offering the explanation that this particular usage has become a shibboleth. Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, calls the usage "entirely standard", and notes that it has been used since the early 18th century, having been commonly used in American English since the 1930s, and gained significant popularity in the 1960s.
The dispute over the use of sentence adverbs is born largely of the fact that in using an existing adverb to apply to not only one verb but a whole sentence, the meaning of the word is altered, which, in certain situations, can lead to ambiguity. For example, Hopefully, he will save money for the deposit on a new house can mean either that it is hoped that he will save the money (in which hopefully is a sentence adverb modifying the entire sentence) or that he is saving money in a hopeful manner (in which hopefully modifies will save). Sentence adverbs have played a part in English since the 17C but have been limited largely to use wherein they retain their original definition (e.g. probably). It was not until the 20C that they began to be used in other situations.
“[T]here is no precise substitute,” says the American Heritage Dictionary. “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 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.” Hopefully is also less personal than I hope or we hope. It is hoped that and if hopes are realized would be impersonal and have been suggested as alternatives to hopefully, but using hopefully is more concise.
Compare to the usage of regretfully, which does have the substitute regrettably. In fact, hopeably has been proposed as an alternative, but it has not caught on.
References[edit | edit source]
- Template:R:American Heritage 2000
- See also M. Stanley Whitley, "Hopefully: A Shibboleth in the English Adverb System", American Speech, (58) 2 (Summer 1983), pp. 126–49 
- "Hopefully" in Merriam-Webster
- Theodore Menline Bernstein. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. Page 216. 1995.