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hope·ful·ly (hōpfə-lē)
1. In a hopeful manner: We began our journey hopefully.
2. Usage Problem It is to be hoped.

Usage Note: "Hopefully, the senator will vote for the bill." Is this sentence saying that one hopes the senator will vote a certain way? Or is it declaring that when the senator votes, it will be done in a hopeful manner? In the first case, the word modifies the entire sentence (functioning as what is known as a sentence adverb) and means "It is to be hoped." In the second case, it modifies the verb phrase "will vote" and means "in a hopeful manner." Since the 1960s, when hopefully became something of a vogue word, its use as a sentence adverb has been roundly criticized on the grounds that it can be ambiguous (which meaning is intended?) and that the bearer of hope is not explicitly indicated (who is hopeful)? It is unclear, however, why hopefully was singled out for criticism. Many other adverbs, such as mercifully and frankly, are regularly used as sentence adverbs: Mercifully, the play was brief. Frankly, the food at that restaurant is terrible. The widespread use of hopefully in similar constructions 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 hoped that) 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. · People often warm to a usage once its novelty fades and it becomes well established. Resistance to this usage has waned over the years, but the gradual path to acceptance has taken much longer than other style choices that were bugbears in the 1960s, such as using impact or contact as verbs. In 1999, 34 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the sentence Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified. In 2012, 63 percent accepted this same sentence. But a significantly larger percentage89 percentaccepted a comparable use of mercifully in 2012, indicating that it is not the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb per se that bothers the Panel. Rather, hopefully appears to be serving as a shibboleth to reveal whether a speaker is aware of the traditional canons of usage.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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