"hopefully", "thankfully"

by Mark Israel
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
The traditional, undisputed senses of these words are active:
"in a hopeful manner", "in a thankful manner".
   The OED's first citation for "hopefully" in the passive sense
(= "It is to be hoped that") is from 1932, but no unmistakable
citation has been found between then and 1954.  (WDEU has three
ambiguous citations dated 1941, 1951, and 1954.)  WDEU's first
citation for the passive sense of "thankfully" (= "We can be
thankful that") is from 1963.  These uses became popular in the
early '60s, and have been widely criticized on the grounds that
they should have been "hopably" and "thankably" (on the analogy of
"arguably", "predictably", "regrettably", "inexplicably", etc.),
and on the grounds that "I hope" is more direct.
   The disputed, passive use of "hopefully" is often referred to as
"sentence-modifying"; but it can also modify a single word, as is
hopefully clear from this example. :-)  Most adverbs that can modify
sentences -- including "apparently", "clearly", "curiously",
"evidently", "fortunately", "ironically", "mercifully", "sadly", and
the "-ably" examples above -- can be converted into "It is apparent
that", etc.  But a few adverbs are used in a way that instead must
be construed with an ellipsis of "to speak" or "speaking".  These
include "briefly" (the OED has citations of "briefly" used in this
way from 1514 on, including one from Shakespeare), "seriously"
(1644; used by Fowler in his article DIDACTICISM in MEU), "strictly"
(1680), "roughly" (1841), "frankly" (1847), "honestly" (1898),
"hopefully", and "thankfully".  Acquisition of such a use is far
from automatic; for example, no one uses "fearfully" in a manner
analogous to "hopefully".
   AHD3 says:  "It might have been expected that the flurry of
objections to hopefully would have subsided once the usage became
well established.  Instead, increased currency of the usage appears
only to have made the critics more adamant.  In the 1969 Usage Panel
survey the usage was acceptable to 44 percent of the Panel; in the
most recent survey [1992] it was acceptable to only 27 percent.
[...]  Yet the Panel has not shown any signs of becoming generally
more conservative:  in the very same survey panelists were disposed
to accept once-vilified usages such as the employment of contact
and host as verbs."  AHD3 quotes William Safire as saying:  "The
word 'hopefully' has become the litmus test to determine whether one
is a language snob or a language slob."
   Discussions about "hopefully" and "thankfully" go round and round
for ever without reaching a conclusion.  We advise you to refrain.