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Rewriting the Zombies: “Hopefully”

Zombie hands coming out of the ground holding a sign that says "Hopefully can modify a sentence

Zombie rules are grammar rules that follow you around like the undead. They’re not really grammar rules, though. Some are stylistic choices, while others are made-up nonsense to make English work more like Latin. In this series, you’ll learn why the rules don’t work and what rule you can follow instead.

Zombie Rule: Don’t Use Hopefully as a Sentence Adverb.

An adverb modifies verbs. But it can also modify adjectives, other adverbs — and sentences.

Truthfully, I didn’t study for the exam.

Yet a zombie rule has risen up, disallowing hopefully as a sentence adverb, as in:

Hopefully, I passed the exam anyway.

Maybe the problem is that hopefully as a sentence adverb is just too new for some people. Although hopefully dates back to the 17th century, its first usage as a sentence adverb was in 1932, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, and it didn’t really catch on until the 1960s.

English speakers and writers embraced hopefully as a sentence adverb rather quickly (at least as far language changes are concerned), and when that happens, defenders of the language will rise up.

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Those defenders declared that hopefully could only mean “in a manner full of hope” and not “it is to be hoped.” But it’s a funny thing about words and their meanings: if enough people use a word to mean something new, that definition can stick and become legitimate. Which is just what happened to hopefully.

Even the recalcitrant Associated Press Stylebook accepts hopefully as a sentence adverb. Hopefully, you will too.

Zombie Rewrite

Hopefully can be used to modify an entire sentence.

A version of this article originally published on August 12, 2013, on Visual Thesaurus.

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