• hopefully (adverb): in a hopeful manner

  • Presumably (adverb): used to convey that what is asserted is very likely though not known for certain.

  • While fully acknowledging, as noted in the discussion about the correct usage of hopefully, that hopefully is accepted in standard usage as a sentence modifier and as a disjunct; I wonder about the etymology and more precise historical differences in the usage between hopefully and presumably.

Question based on background

Why is it correct to say:

"Presumably it is true..."

and incorrect to say

"Hopefully it is true..."

In other words, why would the latter sentence be corrected to:

"I am hopeful that it is true..."

which does not mean the same thing; whereas the former could be changed to:

"I am presuming it is true..."

which does mean the same thing?

Put one other way, why is it standard (and I believe acceptable) English to assume an implicit verb when using presumably:

"I think presumably that it is true..."

where presumably is modifying the verb think to mean that the thought is one which is thought presumptuously or in a presuming manner.

Yet it is not accepted that "I think" is assumed as in:

"I think hopefully that it is true..."

Where hopefully is modifying the verb think to mean that the thought is one which is thought hopefully or in a hopeful manner.

Or is it the case that presumably is just as frequently misused as hopefully and that both are incorrect? If that usage of presumably outlined above is accepted as grammatically correct, is there some etymological reason for this usage?

Presumably someone must know the answer to this question. I await members' replies hopefully.

  • I am asking whether, when strictly adhering to English grammar--ignoring common usage as discussed in the post on "correct usage of hopefully"-- why presumably is treated differently.
    – auerbachb
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 21:58
  • Are you saying that cthom06's and the AHDEL usage panel's opinions are wrong? ['In 1999, 34 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the sentence Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified. In 2012, 63 percent accepted this same sentence.' ] On what grounds? Aren't you confusing 'English grammar' with '18th Century English grammar'? Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:04
  • Please note the flag etymology, and my updated background section. Also note 63% leaves over 1/3 of the panel not accepting the usage. Also note that I am very aware that language is not immutable and that grammatical standards change; nevertheless, there is a logic in usage and if you read all the other examples of disjuncts listed on the wikipedia page I linked to, you will see that the other words must be used as disjuncts because it would change the meaning to use them as adverbs. EG: "Honestly, I didn't do it," could be written "I say honestly (in an honest manner), I didn't do it"
    – auerbachb
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:15
  • There is nothing wrong with saying "Hopefully it is true that ..."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:45
  • 'Presumably someone must know the answer to this question.' But professional linguists disagree (if you are still asking about grammaticality). Are you more prepared to accept the decision of the 63% or the 37%? I doubt you'll get more on the etymology of 'hopefully' = 'it is to be hoped that' than has already been given in the duplicated question. // Your question is poorly presented; CDO has hopefully B1 used, often at the start of a sentence, to express what you would like to happen: Hopefully it won't rain..../B2 in a hopeful way .... NOTE which usage it puts first (= more common). Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:46

3 Answers 3


Michael Quinion, in World Wide Words {2009} covers the rise in the usage of adverbs as sentence modifiers (I'd call them pragmatic markers of various flavours):

Q From Jerry Miller: ... The epidemic of importantly, with or without most or more, has bothered me for some time. It has been well over 70 years since I studied Discourse Markers – Sentence Adverbs grammar here in New York City, so forgive me if I err in terminology. Is importantly a real word; can something be termed as such? It seems that you haven’t used the term since 2007. If so, I am happy for your recovery and, more important, I look forward to your newsletters.

A Thank you. But the cessation of importantly is both temporary and unpremeditated. No doubt I shall use it again sometime soon. Importantly is a real word all right. It entered the language in the seventeenth century (the first recorded user is our good friend William Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, 1611) and has long since become standard in the meaning “in an important manner”. To take one example out of about a million pretty much at random:

“It certainly does need a chimney,” said John importantly. Peter Pan, by J M Barrie, 1904.

The big change in the way it's used has been more recent than your studies of grammar. From the 1930s, some adverbs have increasingly been used at or near the start of a sentence to modify the whole of the sentence that follows. These are called sentence adverbs and have been heavily criticised in the past — the case of hopefully is notorious. Importantly appears six times on the World Wide Words site, always as part of a sentence adverb, which is perhaps why you were particularly struck and dismayed by it. As importantly used in this way became more popular, people came almost exclusively to put more or most in front, which is the way it remains:

More importantly, they require hard currency from customers flowing into their corporate bank accounts. Daily Telegraph, 15 Dec. 2008.

Objections to sentence adverbs have now largely subsided. In the third edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, dated 1996, Robert Burchfield says of more importantly and most importantly that both “must now be considered standard and useful additions to the language”. Even Bryan Garner, usually a conservative in matters of style, says in his Modern American Usage that writers need not fear criticism in employing them and that if any is made, “it’s easily dismissed as picayunish pedantry”, though you shouldn’t take that dollop of clever wordsmithery personally....

One class of pragmatic markers are what are traditionally referred to as modal adverbs. {See the Wiktionary article, and English Forum.}

Modal adverbs are used to express the speaker's view of the truth value of a proposition (a clause or sentence) with which it is associated.

They can be positioned next to an adjective or adverb word or phrase (medial position) and can be considered as modifying such word or phrase. However, even when used in this way, which they often are, there is a paraphrase in which they modify a clause or sentence, and hence are best regarded as sentence adverbs. Many of these also have some other sense, often one of manner.

Medial positioning must then be watched carefully (ie for those words which can do dual duty as adverbs and pragmatic markers):

Actually, he missed school on the day of the cricket final. v He actually missed school on the day of the cricket final!

Obviously, Paul was anxious. (Paul was, obviously, anxious.) v Paul was obviously anxious.

Presumably is obviously in the modal subclass; some would include hopefully (as a pragmatic marker) in this subclass too, but most would use the more precise definition of 'modal' given above and instead subcategorise hopefully as attitudinal. Again, when true/central adverbial (verb-modifying) senses are available, care needs to be taken in medial usage:

Happily, they were married. = They were, happily, married. v They were happily married.

Sadly, Paul was mistaken. (Paul was, sadly, mistaken.) v Paul was sadly mistaken.

Hopefully, he applied for the job. v He hopefully applied for the job [ambiguous, so rarely used as a central adverb before the verb] v He applied hopefully for the job.


The reason "hopefully" was appropriated for its use, as you noted, is because other adverbs were not satisfying the definition required.

"Presumably" does not implicitly provide the speaker's opinion about the inevitability of the statement. If all things continue to proceed as according to expectations, the result will "presumably" happen.

"Hopefully" implies a degree of desire on the part of the speaker for the statement to come to pass, and in turn does not presume on its inevitability. All things are proceeding with some expectations, but nevertheless the result will "hopefully" happen.

  • 1
    Oh, and yes, both words are used with abandon and a great deal of leniency for meaning.
    – Cord
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:34
  • But in either case mustn't there be an implicit thinking agent? Hopefully requires someone to be hopeful and presumably requires someone to presume. Or am I a step removed from your logic. Thinking out loud here...
    – auerbachb
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:53
  • With "presumably", I'm pointing out that the agent is thinking implicitly about the inevitability of the statement (as opposed to a desired outcome). "Presumably" is more opinion-free, and as such I use it in official writing; I rarely use "hopefully".
    – Cord
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 8:56

"Presumably" is a sentence adverb. "Hopefully" is ambiguous -- it is (1) a sentence adverb (but frowned on by prescriptivist grammarians), or (2) a manner adverb. For instance, the manner adverb interpretation is found in "Waiting for his bus, Algernon looked up the street hopefully" if what is meant is that his manner of looking was hopeful, because he hoped to catch sight of the bus coming.

However, in "Waiting for his bus, Algernon looked up the street, hopefully" (note the extra comma) this is not a manner adverb if what is meant is that you hope that he looked up the street instead looking out in the cornfield, because he has little chance of seeing his bus coming through a cornfield. That's the sentence adverb sense of "hopefully".

In your example "Hopefully it is true ...", this can't be a manner adverb, because what sense would it make to say "It is true in a hopeful manner that ..."? No sense. So this must be the sentence adverb sense.

"Hopefully" as a sentence adverb is perfectly okay in current English. It's a bug-a-boo of certain grammarians who know less than they think they do when they say it's "ungrammatical".

  • So there is no distinction in usage between hopefully and presumably?
    – auerbachb
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:17
  • Hopefully, people will take care to disambiguate where 'hopefully' could be read either way. // Other words have accepted double roles as adverbs and pragmatic markers (giving say an evaluative / opinionative comment by the speaker). Thus Frankly, I would speak frankly with her is acceptable, if strained stylewise. Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 22:30
  • OMG!! "Hopefully" must be the only word in the English language that can be used in two different senses!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 23:35
  • 1
    @auerbachb, I don't know of any relevant distinction other than the one I discussed.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 23:53
  • @GregLee thank you for your answer. I guess I was asking, regarding the usage why presumably differs in its usage (can presumably be a manner adverb? It would be very helpful if you could show the parallel / difference with an example of presumably. I think there is something to what Cord said below, but I'm somehow wanting a bit more color. Sorry for not getting it!
    – auerbachb
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 1:30

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