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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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As pointed out below, only is the important word here. It's got a very complex meaning, involving asserting some things, and presupposing others. Here's the paper that first spelled out how only and even actually work. –  John Lawler Feb 26 at 19:02

2 Answers 2

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

depends on the context its been used. It could mean you know for sure that X is impossible. E.g: ''I can only hope to turn back the hands of time'', ''I can only hope to see man create and destroy energy someday'', ''I can only hope to see us being able to send smells electronically over the internet''. These are things you cant possibly achieve. OR

You're trying to point out that X SEEMS impossible and SEEMS you cant possibly achieve doing it or it SEEMS X cant be done. E.g: "I can only hope to have you believe me for once", "I can only hope to see an African country manufacture computers someday", "I can only hope to see a black British Prime Minister". These are things that seems impossible but are actually possible in real sense.

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protected by tchrist Mar 1 at 16:29

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