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Recently I browsed through the definition of hope in New Oxford American Dictionary (provided by Apple in the dictionary app) to double confirm with its usage as I answered a word-choice question and came across this:

in hopes of

with the aim of: I lay on a towel in the park in hopes of getting a tan.

I naturally accepted it without a second thought as it is in a pretty authorized dictionary and it looked alright. However, as I answered OP's question, I could see his/her doubt regarding this definition. So I decided to look it up on the Internet and to my astonishment, I couldn't find much evidence supporting that in hopes of has the meaning "with the aim of". Dictionary.com and Merriam-webster even suggest in hopes of should just be used normally to mean "hoping something", like in the hope of.

hope

desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment: came in hopes of seeing you

Therefore my conclusion is: the definition of in hopes of depends on the context.

But it is not easy to tell just from a sentence though. For example,

John went to MIT in hopes of finding a girlfriend.

It can be interpreted as "John went to MIT, hoping that he could find a girlfriend" or "John went to MIT and his intention was to find a girlfriend". One has to know what kind of person John was or what he did in MIT to decide what in hopes of means in this scenario.

So my question here is:

is it actually "safe" to use the phrase in hopes of to mean with the aim of ?

Do most people consider in hopes of entirely the same as in the hope of in terms of meaning? Will they misinterpret it when it is supposed to mean with the aim of?

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Yes, there is no grammatical rule which states one cannot use such a phrase in modern English writing. –  user45653 Jun 8 '13 at 2:49
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I would agree with the with the aim of definition, but with the addition that it should have enough chance of failure to warrant a degree of hope.

"I went to the corner shop, with the aim of buying some milk" (or simply "to buy some milk") is a straight-forward plan and its execution. You'd expect me to soon have some milk.

"I went to the corner shop, in hopes of buying some milk" would imply that the shop often didn't have milk,* so it was in no way a given that I would succeed.

*Or that I was really absent minded, or didn't know where the shop is, or some other reason that could lead to the plan failing.

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