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“Hopefully” Gets Upgrade at AP

The adverb hopefully, meaning "it is hoped," was just upgraded to acceptable at The Associated Press Stylebook (AP), according to Monica Hesse writing in yesterday's Washington Post online. I recommend her article, "AP’s Approval of ‘Hopefully’ Symbolizes Larger Debate Over Language," and its colorful background on the significance of AP's shift.

The change is an update of the 2011 AP Stylebook, which included this entry for hopefully:

hopefully It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope or we hope.

Right: It is hoped that we will complete our work in June.

Right: We hope that we will complete our work in June.

Wrong as a way to express the thought in the previous two sentences: Hopefully, we will complete our work in June.

Now the example called wrong in 2011 is right. According to the AP Stylebook, it is now acceptable to write "Hopefully, we will complete our work in June."

This may not seem like a big deal, but to many linguistic sticklers it is the end of the world of correctness.

Although I don't see its use as the world's end, I am not going to use hopefully for "it is hoped." Why? Because too many old-school grammarians will think I don't know better. As Bryan Garner says of hopefully in Garner's Modern American Usage, "If you use it in the newish way [as "it is hoped"], a few readers will tacitly tut-tut you."

The "old way" to use hopefully is as a traditional adverb, as in "She waited hopefully for her brother to return." The "new way" just sanctioned by AP might be "Hopefully, her brother will return."

AP is not the first reference manual to approve hopefully for "it is hoped." These guides, along with Garner's Modern American Usage, have already called it acceptable:

The Gregg Reference Manual

The Chicago Manual of Style: "The newer meaning . . . seems here to stay. But many careful writers deplore the new meaning."

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: "The second sense of hopefully is entirely standard."

Canadian Oxford Dictionary: "There are no grounds for condemning this use."

Hopefully,It is hoped that this new AP ruling makes sense to you. Please share your reaction.

Syntax Training

PS: See an updated list of our public business writing courses.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

11 comments on ““Hopefully” Gets Upgrade at AP”

  • The Pimsleur language program says there are more than 5,000 languages on earth, only 500 with a written component. This would argue that language is primarily a spoken activity; literacy is a relatively modern development.

    Similarly, NPR reports in “The (Monkey) Business Of Recognizing Words” – – that speaking and reading use different brain areas.

    One of my old college professors argued that there are actually four grammars: how people speak, how grammarians describe speech, how people write, and how grammarians describe writing. See “Not Just One but Four Grammars” – and Why That’s Good” – – for details.

    My point is that in topics such as “hopefully,” we need to be careful about cart-and-horse issues. While those who “tut, tut” are judging the cart, most people are busy riding the horse bareback. As professional writers, we need to demonstrate that the best transportation employs both cart and horse in proper order.

  • Lynn, what a fascinating post!I had never before thought about how I was using the word “hopefully,” and enjoyed reading this history of acceptable usage. Thanks for sharing!

    This also reminds me of something my supervisor used to tell me when I worked in retail management and would tell her I “hoped” to have some specific sales results: “Hope is not a strategy.”

    Not grammar-related, but a useful piece of business advice all the same.

  • Hi, Les. Thanks for another very helpful comment. I have not yet clicked your links for more information, but I enjoy having them there to investigate when I have more time.

    The point of the four grammars is very interesting!

    Despite your vivid cart-and-horse metaphor, I am still going to hold back from using the newly acceptable “hopefully.” I have been remembering to avoid it for too long. But I won’t urge others to do so. We can each ride the train of language our own way.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment.


  • Hi, Laura. No one every harped on me about “presently,” so I haven’t thought much about it.

    “Impact” is a good one to watch. Does “throwing in the towel” mean you are already using it as a verb?

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Yes, a transitive verb. Sigh. And the late John Bremner, my editing professor, would be dismayed to know that I also gave up on his mantra of “quality is not an adjective.”

  • There is also a cultural nuance.
    I well remember doing some work in the Middle- East, and disagreeing with a business partner who told a client “hopefully we will finish by “. I said how we were committed to achieve the timeline and told the client our efforts would ensure success. My mistake was in not appreciating the meaning of “hopefully – i.e. “God willing”. Hmmm, error.

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