Grammar

A Grammar Error I Hope You Aren’t Making

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After a little rant on my Facebook page about due to, a phrase used incorrectly almost every time it is written or spoken, my friend Mrs. L, of Mrs. Linklater’s Guide to the Universe issued a special request:

Could you please ‘splain hopeful and hopefully? Because of your due diligence, grammar is in good hands.

As often as due to is used incorrectly, few words are misused as much as the word hopefully.

Consider this sentence:

Hopefully, the check will be waiting in my mailbox tomorrow.

We’ve all written sentences like that. You’ll find them here among the seven years worth of archives. I’ll get around to fixing them sooner or later, because now that I’ve been reminded of this error, it’ll annoy me until I do.

But the point is that in every case of such a use, we’re wrong.

In that sentence, hopefully is an adverb that dangles. Technically, it modifies the verb waiting, but the noun in the sentence is the check.

So what the writer is really saying is that the check will be hopeful as it waits in my mailbox tomorrow.

Inanimate objects can’t hope for things, so they can’t be hopeful.

What the writer meant to say was this:

I am hopeful the check will be in my mailbox tomorrow.

Or, even better:

I hope the check will be in my mailbox tomorrow.

You can’t get more clear than that.

The problem with this grammatical controversy is that few people will ever change their ways when it comes to using (or more accurately, misusing) the word hopefully at the start of a sentence because virtually everyone knows what they meant to say.

Even if they don’t know that the way it was said is absolutely incorrect.

But now you know what’s right and wrong about using hopefully. So I am hopeful that you’ll take this new knowledge to heart and not misuse hopefully again.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

5 Comments

  • However, because it has been misused for so long, most dictionaries now 'allow' this usage. I come down firmly on the side of being understood in most cases, and when someone uses "hopefully" in the more usual way, I am 100% clear on what they mean.

    Now if we could just get some clarity for people on the difference between "imply" and "infer" and the difference between "libel" and "slander" I'd be so very happy!! 🙂
    My recent post The Queens Meme

    • It's important to note, Cat., that a dictionary doesn't allow use; a dictionary only defines common uses of words that may be correct or incorrect.

      The word irregardless, which isn't a word, is listed there because it's used so commonly that people needed to be able to look it up to see what people who meant to say regardless really had in mind. But just because it's in the dictionary, that doesn't make it correct to use.

  • Hopefully, you'll get over this one. While you're right grammatically, practically it's "hopefully" modifying the speaker/voice. In itself, it's doing what you suggest, "I hope…" I see it more like the sentence, "Chew your food." – where the implied "you" is left off. With, "Hopefully,…" – it's the implied "I".

    Or at least it should be, so I won't be fretting over this one due to my own stubbornness. 🙂

  • Fascinating! I never realized what I was saying when I started a sentence with hopefully.

  • I still deliberately use the word "ain't", so I don't think I'll be worrying about this one.

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