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When someone says "I can only hope to X", what does she mean?

How is it different from the simpler expression "I hope to X"?

Would it be natural to use "I can only hope to" in the following case?

I know this is just the beginning of many more successes, and I can only hope to celebrate them with you in the future.

If not, what would be a good replacement in the above sentence? I would like to say that I am so confident that something will happen (in this case, the success of the person I am addressing), that the only uncertainty I have left is if I will be able to celebrate this success with her.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Only is a key modifer here. "I can only hope to X" means that hope is all you expect to be able to do. You don't expect to actually do X. A better way to phrase your sentence would be:

I know this is just the beginning of many more successes, and I hope to celebrate those successes with you.

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I think in some cases you might actually expect X to happen - but if the outcome is out of your hands, you can still 'only hope'. Or maybe even if it is within your control - "I can only hope I stay focussed in the meeting". –  FumbleFingers Jul 17 '11 at 22:49
    
There's some possibility that you're not going to be able to do X. In this case, maybe the other person is moving across country, or leaving the company, or you're breaking up amicably, or you've been promoted over the other person. It has a bittersweet feel to me. –  mkennedy Jul 18 '11 at 0:45
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