hopefully (and similarly abused adverbs)
The function of an adverb was characterized by Goold Brown in 1830:
An adverb is a word added to a verb, a participle, an adjective, or an other adverb; and generally expresses time, place, degree, or manner.He further distinguished between two classes of adverbs that express manner.
Adverbs of manner are those which answer to the question how? or show how a subject is regarded.It is this last distinction that concerns us here, because a common failure to recognize it accounts for the widespread misuse of hopefully, along with frankly, thankfully, regretfully, and various other adverbs of manner.
As an example of an adverb that shows how a subject is regarded, consider understandably, used to modify an adjective in this sentence:
Gore was understandably disappointed in the court's decision.Here, of course, it is not Gore who understands, but rather, his observer. Also note that the adverb may be relocated without altering either its relation to the adjective or the meaning of the sentence:
Understandably, Gore was disappointed in the court's decision.The dual of understandably, in the sense of Brown's classification, is understandingly, which instead answers the question how? Can one be effectively replaced by the other?
Understandingly, Gore was disappointed in the court's decision.It is clear that the result does not retain the sense of the original. If we are to ascribe any meaning at all to this construction, it can only be that Gore's disappointment was tempered with understanding. In any case, if our intention was to say that his disappointment can be understood, or in particular that we understand it, then this last attempt simply fails. (If you're not with me on this point, then this would be a good time to drop out of the discussion.)
Regrettably, Bush finally won the election.Here, the adverb modifies the verb. Again, the meaning is clear: Bush's victory is regrettable; we are not attributing regret to anyone in particular. On the other hand, if we wanted to claim that Bush himself regretted the outcome, we could do that just as easily:
Regretfully, Bush finally won the election.But if this is not our intention, then regretfully is the wrong word. Although perhaps more common, the careless substitution of regretfully for regrettably is no less grievous an error than the use of understandingly for understandably, or undoubtingly for undoubtedly.
Now according to the OED, hopeable is an English adjective, however rarely used, meaning "that may be hoped for". The only citation given there is from 1611, but I found a more recent occurrence in a 1974 article by Buckminster Fuller:
It therefore seemed to be infinitely hopeable, ergo validly prayable, ....If we accept this word, along with its natural adverbial form, then we might use the latter to express our hope for Bush's defeat in the next presidential election:
Hopeably, Bush will lose in 2004.Here again, the adverb modifies the verb, conveying the meaning that Bush's (potential) loss is a hopeable event. But what can we make of the following?
Hopefully, Bush will lose in 2004.The only candidate to be found here for modification by hopefully is the verb, will lose. Will Bush be hopeful in his loss? Perhaps, but it is far more likely that the author of this sentence is attempting to express a hope of his own, and is committing precisely the same error that is illustrated by the above misuses of understandingly and regretfully. Even if one rejects hopeably, can the abuse of hopefully be justified on the grounds that no appropriate adverb exists?