Sentence Adverbs (and more on “hopefully”)

Last Friday’s post discussed AP Style‘s acceptance (at long last) of hopefully to mean “I hope” (or we hope, or it is hoped) as opposed to the rigid traditional meaning  of “in a hopeful manner” (or “with hope“). As in:

Hopefully, you received a large tax refund this year. (The usage now widely accepted.)

Not to be confused with:

Spot waited hopefully for a second dog biscuit. (The only acceptable usage according to many curmudgeons.)

One of the reasons frequently claimed for not accepting the prevalent colloquial usage of hopefully has been that it does not function the same as other sentence adverbs: words like apparently, fortunately, ironically, sadly, and so on. A sentence adverb is an adverb that applies to an entire clause, or an entire sentence; a simple, run-of-the-mill adverb, on the other hand, modifies only a single word:

Ted smiled and laughed ironically at von Richtofen’s jest. (Ironically applies as an adverb only to laughed. It was an ironic laugh.)

But von Richtofen was now at Ted’s mercy, ironically because of plans he had set in motion himself. (Ironically is used as a sentence adverb here, modifying the entire clause that makes up the second half of the sentence.)

The key point runs that a sentence adverb can’t resolve to the form “in a(an) ______ manner.” In the examples just above, you could say that Ted laughed “in an ironic manner,” but you can’t write that von Richtofen’s plans had been set in motion “in an ironic manner.” The logic then continues that since hopefully can in fact resolve to “in a hopeful manner” (and remember, that’s the only resolution in the old sense), then it’s not a sentence adverb. That fact – that it’s not a sentence adverb – is part of the ammunition traditionally used to shoot down hopefully in the “I hope” usage.

That’s probably enough to introduce the idea of sentence adverbs. As with much of the information I use here, I owe the foundation of my knowledge of this topic to Garner’s ever-useful GMAU. However, in doing additional research on both hopefully and the sentence adverb, I came across an excellent online source that’s worth sharing.

I normally tell people, especially students, to avoid (the typical quality of information there is atrocious), but this article on sentence adverbs is very well done. If you’d like some further reading on the topic (examples, explanation, etc.), this is a good place to start. Thanks, Richard Nordquist: you’ve got a new fan.


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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One Response to Sentence Adverbs (and more on “hopefully”)

  1. Pingback: Comparing and Arguing About Dictionaries - A Way with Words, public radio's lively language show

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