Hopefully, We’ll Adapt to the Constant Language Changes


I find lan­guage so inter­est­ing (per­haps the under­state­ment of the year). On any given day, I might edit the same sen­tence in two or three dif­fer­ent ways, depend­ing on the pre­ferred style guide — or just plain per­sonal pref­er­ences — of the client I’m edit­ing it for. And right there is a prime example:

Some clients would fiercely defend their right to end a sen­tence with a prepo­si­tion because it sounds more like the real way we speak, while oth­ers would insist that it never be done, no mat­ter how pretzel-like the sen­tence may sound (do pret­zels sound? you know what I mean).

'Pretzels' photo (c) 2007, Lenore Edman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Indeed, when I was in 12th-grade Pre-College Com­po­si­tion class, “Do not end a sen­tence with a prepo­si­tion” was one of the hard-and-fast rules we were to employ in our writ­ing assign­ments. While that remains a gen­eral guide­line, it is now con­sid­ered by many gram­mar­i­ans to be accept­able to leave a prepo­si­tion at the end if it sounds more nat­ural to do so.

What struck me just now is the email I found in my inbox from the AP (Asso­ci­ated Press) Style­book Online, updat­ing sub­scribers to a newly insti­tuted change con­cern­ing the use of “hope­fully.” As in:

“Hope­fully, we can go soon.”

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, noth­ing, in ordi­nary con­ver­sa­tion and infor­mal writ­ing. But for years, con­ser­v­a­tive gram­mar­i­ans have said “hope­fully” should only be used as an adverb mean­ing “in a hope­ful manner.”

“Will din­ner be ready by 5:00?” “Assum­ing all goes as planned,” Dad answered hopefully.

But they were firm that it should not be used as a sub­sti­tute for “I hope so,” as in:

“Hope­fully, I’ll have time to eat before soc­cer practice.”

Well, guess what? Now, the AP says both uses are correct! 

I also just checked the Chicago Man­ual of Style, which states (seem­ingly with a sigh of res­ig­na­tion) that the old mean­ing “seems unsus­tain­able; the newer mean­ing … seems here to stay.” Well, I wouldn’t say the old is unsus­tain­able — just that it needs to shove over a bit and make room for the new mean­ing in the front of the bus now, too.

Hope­fully, it will… she said hopefully.

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