It’s 6:30 on a Friday morning and I’ve been awake for a couple hours. As I lay in bed, I found myself thinking about the Grammar Police. Now, when I first introduced the Grammar Police into the Aunt Ruth stories (I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head), I thought it was humorous, and probably justly so. Imagine being arrested for saying something incorrectly.
But, having seen my kids take on the self proclaimed Grammar Police role in my household — and having been issued a few citations recently by these same officers — I think it is time to distinguish between Grammar Police and Grammar Gestapo.
In the United States, the police officer has the duty of protection and enforcement; he (or she) is a friend; and philosophically the intent of a police officer is to encourage and promote reasonable behavior and safety. That’s why you don’t get a speeding ticket for going 56 mph in a 55 mph zone. Yes, technically it’s speeding, but the offender is still going “reasonably close” to the limit, by some definition of reasonably close.
That being said, I think it is important to establish that the Grammar Police Department needs to have the same type of role. The encourager, the helper, the friend — these roles will promote correct English faster than a more Gestapo-like officer who whisks away the offender, beats the living daylights out of him, and then places him back in society, expecting him (the offender) to be happy with his now correct grammatical wherewithal.
In other words, all you erstwhile Grammar Police out there — be gentle! Go easy on those who didn’t grow up knowing the difference between Hopefully and “I hope that” …
Let’s save the brutal beatings for things that really matter (like conjugation of irregular verbs).
We native English language speakers (and writers) have some bad habits, not the least of which is a general propensity for using adverbs incorrectly.
In particular, I’m thinking this morning about “hopefully” and how it is often (incorrectly) used to actually mean “I hope that.”
Before we look at incorrect usage, let’s demonstrate correct examples. To do something hopefully means to do it in a hopeful manner. That being the case, I think that the following are all correct uses of hopefully.
I hopefully fished in the pond last night. That is, I was hopeful that I would catch a fish.
I hopefully baked a lemon meringue pie this morning. Why was I hopeful? I was hopeful that the meringue topping would not burn.
I hopefully planted the apple seed. That is, when I planted the seed I was hopeful that an apple tree would grow.
Another way of stating this is: Hopefully I planted the apple seed. I planted the seed in a hopeful manner. Note that I am not saying that I hope I planted the apple seed.
Let me state that again in case you missed it. Look at the following:
Hopefully I applied for the new job.
This means that I applied in a hopeful manner for the new job. I was hoping I would get the job.
It does NOT mean that I hope I applied for the job.
So where do we hear incorrect usage of hopefully? We hear it everywhere.
Hopefully the mail will arrive this morning.
What’s wrong with that sentence? Well, first of all, as an inanimate object, mail cannot think or feel, let alone hope. Why would the mail arrive in a hopeful manner? Would the mail be hoping that you might read it? I don’t think so. What the utterer of that sentence would mean is, “I hope the mail will arrive this morning.”
“I hope” and “hopefully” are not the same thing.
Hopefully a tuba will not fall from the sky and land on me today. Again, why would the tuba be hopeful about anything? I should say, “I hope that a tuba will not fall.”
Even with something like this:
Hopefully she will arrive on time.
The word hopefully applies to the manner in which she arrives. Is she arriving in a hopeful manner? If you know that she is hoping that she will arrive on time, then the sentence is fine. But if what you mean is that you hope she will arrive on time, that’s something different.
Got it? Hopefully.