Hopefully, we can save our moral outrage for something important
I dutifully applied the Associated Press Stylebook rule—repeated in many respectable reference books on grammar and usage—that “hopefully” should be used only to mean “in a hopeful manner.”
So if someone wrote, “Hopefully, the dog won’t throw up on the rug,” I’d sigh and explain that no, the dog is not hopeful that it won’t throw up on the rug. The owner is hopeful. And as the owner is not actually in the sentence, the sentence must be changed.
I’d suggest something like “I hope the dog won’t throw up on the rug.”
(I don’t think I was ever such a tweezer as to insist on “It is hoped that the dog won’t throw up on the rug.”)
The big news in the copy editing world this week is that AP has finally come around on “hopefully.” The stylebook editors have decided to allow it as a sentence adverb—that is, an adverb that applies to the whole sentence, rather than to a specific verb, adjective or other adverb.
We use sentence adverbs all the time. “Apparently, the dog threw up on the rug.” “Frankly, it’s disgusting.” “Unfortunately, I am out of carpet cleaner.”
Even before AP pronounced it OK, I gave up policing “hopefully” at the beginning of sentences.
The most recent example that comes to mind is a headline in the Life section a couple of weeks ago: “Hopefully, child cannot tell a lie again.” I was the copy editor that day. I thought about changing it. I decided not to, because I could not imagine a reader being confused by the construction.
There are real mistakes out there to correct. That is not a real mistake. I like to think that the mental energy I save on “hopefully” will come in handy sometime when I come across a big, hairy typo in a headline or a grammatical error that would truly cause confusion.
If I’m going to make an ass of myself, I want it to be about something that matters.
Here’s the new entry, which AP sent out today:
The traditional meaning is in a hopeful manner. Also acceptable is the modern usage: it’s hoped, we hope.
Correct: “You’re leaving soon?” she asked hopefully.
Correct: Hopefully, we’ll be home before dark.