Source: Starting a Sentence With "Hopefully", By Mignon Fogarty, 2007 Sep 21

... the traditional use of hopefully... is to mean “in a hopeful manner,” as in

1. Squiggly looked hopefully at the box of chocolates.

... hopefully is an adverb in that sentence. It modifies the verb looked.

1. = 1.1. Squiggly is looking in a hopeful manner at the chocolates.

2. Hopefully, I'll get ... chocolate.

In [2.], hopefully is behaving like a sentence adverb. You see, adverbs modify verbs, but they can also modify other adverbs or, as they do in this case, whole sentences. Hopefully means[:] I'm hopeful I'll get some of that chocolate.

3. Fortunately, the chocolate was out of reach.

4. Honestly, I wish I were somewhere else.

...fortunately and honestly modify the whole sentence in the same way that hopefully did in the previous example. Fortunately relates to the entire point that the chocolate was out of reach, and honestly describes the subject's state of mind and gives the whole sentence a confessional quality.

2.1. In 2, how's hopefully a sentential adverb? It modifies the verb get? Since hope may be smothered,
   2.2. I'll get in a hopeful manner ...    equates to     2.3. I hope that I'll get ...'   ?

3.1. What's wrong with my belief that fortunately modifies the verb was? Adverbs denote 'place'.

4.1. In 4, honestly modifies wish, to describe the manner in which you wish that you were elsewhere?

Footnote: I read this, this and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disjunct_%28linguistics%29.

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    ...that's to say, hopefully, fortunately, honestly in these examples all mean the following sentence/statement/wish is hopeful, fortunate, honest. Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 15:57
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    No. You're saying they're "sentential adverbs". I'm saying they're called "sentence adverbs" (by Grammar Girl, at least). I'm also saying that they're idiomatic usages which don't fit well with your concepts of "parts of speech". Besides which they're not all the same. You might better think of your examples 2, 4 as being statements preceded by the caveat "Speaking hopefully/honestly", but that doesn't work for 3, obviously. Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 16:59
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    Example: We expected the enemy to attack us in our weakened state. Surprisingly, nothing happened all day long. What does "surprisingly" modify? Surely it doesn't tell us the manner in which "nothing happened." Instead, it modifies the entire concept of nothing having happened. As @FumbleFingers says, it applies to the entire sentence that follows as one unit. (Just like "As FumbleFingers says" does, I might add....and like "I might add.")
    – Adam
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 18:18
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    And who is down-voting this question? Why? It seems to me to be a very interesting, totally on-topic concept.
    – Adam
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 18:20
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    Hopefully does not modify get, it modifies the whole sentence; and specifically it indicates the speaker's stance to the sentence. As an adverbial it is optional to the sentence. Just Google 'Adverbials of stance' and you can read for hours.
    – user6951
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 11:27

3 Answers 3


Why you’re wrong

What's going on here might become more apparent with the verb “eat”:

Hopefully, I’ll eat some of that chocolate.

“Hopefully” doesn't seem to make a lot of sense as a modifier for “eat”. You might eat quickly, eat sloppily, eat slowly, eat languorously, eat voraciously, or eat piggishly. I think you could even eat angrily or happily. But it's hard for me to imagine eating hopefully. The only way I could imagine eating hopefully is during a religious ritual like the Eucharist, where you might hope that the cracker, while you are eating it, is really, truly, and substantially the body of Christ. But that's not what one ordinarily means in a sentence like the example.

The intended meaning is:

I hope to eat some of that chocolate.

or, to spell out what's going on very explicitly:

I hope that the sentence “I’ll eat some of that chocolate” is true.

Why you’re right

On the other hand, there is a reasonable argument that this kind of sentence can at least sometimes make sense both ways. Another of your examples could be understood like this:

The chocolate was many things: brown, sweet, bunny-shaped, and out of reach. The chocolate's possession of the bunny shape—that is, the connection, or shall I say, copulation,* between the chocolate and its shape, which we commonly denote by the word “was”—was unfortunate, but the chocolate's possession of ‘out of reach’, if you don’t mind my sounding like a Scholastic philosopher, was fortunate.

Of course, “if you don't mind my sounding like a Scholastic philosopher” referred to the whole clause, not just “was”. Or, uh, maybe it referred to both, in a way. Where’s Jean Buridan when you need him?

The moral of the story

The moral of all this is, sometimes it doesn't matter whether you think an adverb is “sentential” or whatever grammar jargon there is for an adverb that modifies a verb but not the sentence as a whole. Or a clause as a whole. Or whatever.

English doesn’t care. English doesn’t provide different forms for adverbs that modify a whole sentence vs. adverbs that modify only the verb.

English does care about some weird things, like what time it is or whether the relevant instance of a noun is already present in discourse. English demands that you make choices about those things whether you want to or not, by choosing a tense for the main verb and choosing an article for every noun. (Having no article is still a choice of article—a hard thing to learn for people coming from languages without articles.)

But English doesn't require that you indicate your choice about whether you intend an adverb to modify a whole clause or just its main verb. English gives you some ways to strongly suggest one or the other, like where you place the adverb in the sentence and whether you surround it with commas or pauses, but ultimately the reader's common sense will determine the right interpretation. In most cases, only one interpretation is reasonable, in which case everything is fine. In some cases, one could argue that both interpretations are reasonable but it doesn't make any difference. In those cases, it doesn't make any difference—and English doesn’t care. Maybe you can think of a sentence where both interpretations are reasonable and it does make a difference. That might make an interesting question for ELU.

Most dictionaries don’t list it, but there really is established usage for this meaning of “copulation”. See the OED, sense 1b, which is not even marked obsolete. Just don't say you learned it here.

  • -10 if I could. Why you're wrong is that linguists correctly categorize adverbials of stance as a particular kind of adverbial. Just Google the italicized phrase. One needn't trivialize grammatical forms just because one is either unaware of or disparaging of a category.
    – user6951
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 11:33
  • @δοῦλος Sorry, I don't understand. Which proposition do you think is wrong?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 11:46

1: Hopefully, everyone will upvote this answer
2: Unfortunately, some people probably won't
3: Honestly, I can't explain why

In all cases, Grammar Girl calls the first word a "Sentence Adverb" usage, saying...

adverbs modify verbs, but they can also modify other adverbs or, as they do in this case, whole sentences.

In light of that it should be fairly obvious there's no real point in trying to identify any specific verb in the sentence that's being "adverbially" modified by the first word in my examples.

As to why they use the adverbial rather than adjectival form, you probably can't do much better than that's just how we express such relationships. But not always - consider, for example,...

4: Most important, we cannot assume only the adverbial form is valid
5: Most importantly, we must note that this version is in fact less common

...where if you follow the links in those two examples you'll see that #4 is the more common usage. Though this is presumably an idiomatic quirk associated with the superlative most, without which #4 probably wouldn't be considered acceptable by most native speakers.

EDIT: Noting this comment by δοῦλος, it's worth mentioning the paper: Adverbial stance types in English, which identifies six distinct categories of "adverbs of stance"...

1: honestly adverbials,
2: generally adverbials,
3: surely adverbials,
4: actually adverbials,
5: maybe adverbials,
6: amazingly adverbials.

(These are examples of types, so astonishingly, for example, falls into category #6 above).

  • Hold on a minute! Most important is an adverb for you! Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 0:56
  • @Araucaria: Sure, in #4 it's a sentence adverb. But the most important thing to note is that ordinarily it's an adjectival term (suitable for modifying things like thing! :) Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 1:21
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    Ah, so your saying that it's an adverb that can sometimes function like an adjective? ;) Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 16:47
  • @Araucaria: Once I got my head around the idea that weekdays can be classed as an "adverb" I never looked back! :) Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 17:20

Here's a quasi-technical answer. "Hopefully, I’ll eat some of that chocolate" can be rendered as "I hope (that) I'll eat some of that chocolate" or "I hope to eat some of that chocolate". These are complement clauses in which the matrix clause "I hope..." has no real relation to the verb "eat". The "eat" event has not happened, it is an 'irrealis', non-factive event all in the speaker's imagination. So, there's no way "hopefully" modifies "eat".

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