A day late is better than never…
A few weeks ago, Organic Mama, being a native English speaker of the Canadian variety, confronted me with the very United States American practice of starting a sentence with the adverb “hopefully.”
“Why do you do that?” she asked, “the adverb isn’t actually modifying anything in the sentence. It doesn’t make sense!”
I said something akin to, “WELCOME TO THE USA!! Exactly where on your citizenship application did it disclose that we always make sense?”
Once I got past my snarky response (trust me; she’d have worried if I didn’t say something wise-assed and sarcastic), I started to really ponder the question. It’s a good one. O’Mama is right – when we say something like:
“Hopefully, the rain will hold off until after the parade.”
it’s clear to see that the adverb isn’t really modifying anything in the sentence. Even if we rearrange the words and say:
“The rain will, hopefully, hold off until after the parade.”
we’re still not modifying anything in the sentence with the adverb; the rain isn’t hopeful, and neither is the holding 0ff of said rain. It’s obvious to native U.S.A American speakers that the “hopefully” in these sentences is expressing the speaker’s (or writer’s) wish, but strictly speaking, the adverb is misplaced in the sentence.
My thinking about this led to the consideration of a bunch of other adverbs that we commonly use to start sentences:
Thankfully, there was someone there to unlock the gate when we arrived.
Clearly, you should get a couple of dancing lessons before you go to the audition.
There are, obviously, a number of reasons why you should consider skipping dessert.
In my above sentences, no one in the first was thankful, nothing in the second was clear and while the reasons may be obvious, obviously is not an adjective. This led me to thinking about how we close letters, as well: I end my correspondence most often with “warmly,” and I’ve seen people write “sincerely” or “affectionately,” as well.
My final analysis (though I hope it goes without saying that, for me, no analysis is ever final) is that these words are used to convey tone and mood rather than to modify a specific element of the sentence. When I say that “hopefully, the rain will hold off until after the parade,” I am expressing my wish that it do so – I’m adding a layer of meaning to the sentence, and to my intention for speaking or writing it – by my inclusion of that adverb, just as closing a letter with “warmly” conveys to my reader my affection and kindness toward them. At least, I am hopeful* that my closing leaves my readers with those feelings…
Does this make any sense?
Thank you for your patience in letting me turn in my Grammar Wednesday a little late, by the way. We had a VERY successful trip to IKEA so, for me, it was worth the wait.
Happy Thursday, Everyone!
*didja catch that? Tricky, aren’t I?