In the following sentence, what does hopefully mean, what part of speech is it, and what does it modify?

Hopefully the rain will end soon.

From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hopefully:

1 : in a hopeful manner
2 : it is hoped : I hope : we hope : hopefully the rain will end soon

It must be #2 according to the example. If it means "it is hoped" or "I hope" then is the entire main subject and predicate of the sentence subsumed into the word hopefully?

A related question is, if I use a comma, how does that change the sentence grammatically and semantically?

Hopefully, the rain will end soon.

  • What dictionaries have you looked at? – user8543 Jul 16 '14 at 15:50
  • I'm not sure about the terminologies used by modern grammars of English (especially generative and functional ones). Traditionally, it would be an adverb. It could be considered that it modifies the whole sentence, but I believe that it is traditionally considered to modify the verb of the main clause. As for the meaning, I couldn't describe it better than any dictionaries either. Though in my opinion, "hopefully" could be understood as "hope-full-like", i.e. "in a manner that is full of hope". – Damkerng T. Jul 16 '14 at 16:03
  • @user8543, good point. Question updated. – CoolHandLouis Jul 16 '14 at 16:08
  • @DamkerngT. FYI, question has been updated and slightly changed. – CoolHandLouis Jul 16 '14 at 16:09

Hopefully is an adverb in your excerpt, but it modifies the entire sentence rather than any individual word within it. It is an example of a disjunct, about which Brinton & Brinton (via LinguisticsGirl) say

Disjunct adverbials denote the attitude of the speaker toward or judgment of the proposition such as truthfulness of manner of speaking. … The grammatical forms that can function as the disjunct adverbial in English grammar are the adverb phrase, prepositional phrase, and adverb clause.

More specifically, it is a sentence adverb, a common if sometimes disliked usage:

Unfortunately, the show ended late.

Thankfully, the kitchen is still open.

Obviously, we will order both desserts.

Oxford reports general suspicion of sentence adverbs in some quarters; some prefer to reword them— it is lucky that in place of luckily— and reject those which refer to the speaker's attitude, which cannot be reworded in this way (one cannot say it is frank that in place of frankly). That seems quite arbitrary, however. Clearly, such usage is widely accepted, and hopefully, you will not get caught up by misguided purists.

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