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I thought that the following sentence was fine: "I assumed that you fed your dog, hopefully because you realized it was hungry, rather than because you felt guilty for leaving it alone for so long."

But a friend of mine rewrote the sentence in the following way: "I assumed that you fed your dog, because, hopefully, you felt sorry for it, rather than because you felt guilty for leaving it alone for so long."

I was therefore wondering whether people here thought there was anything wrong with the original sentence, or whether the revised sentence sounded better for some reason.

  • I don't have any sources to back up why but the sentence your friend rewrote is more correct. – Aaron Apr 29 '18 at 20:33
  • @Skater, on the one hand what you’re asking simply doesn’t work. Part of the reason is the example makes something which should be simple appear complicated. If you must use a phrase like that why not simplify it, for instance to “… you fed your dog, hopefully because it was hungry, rather than because you felt guilty…” Either way, “I assumed that you fed your dog, hopefully…” is at best unwieldy. Could you take it all back and come up with a useful example? This might have been, and can you please state that the next is a real citation and not a construct? – Robbie Goodwin Apr 30 '18 at 19:48
  • It is, at a minimum, improperly punctuated. – Hot Licks Jul 30 '18 at 1:05
  • @HotLicks Would you take out the second comma? – Zebrafish Oct 28 '18 at 9:12
  • If I found the second one in a novel, I would find it jarring. – gnasher729 Oct 28 '18 at 11:34
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My problem is not so much with the punctuation of either sentence but with the use of the word hopefully.

Hopefully is one of those words which has insinuated itself gradually--almost surreptitiously--into the English language. Instead of meaning "done in a hopeful manner," it now simply injects the idea of hope into a sentence without expressing exactly who is doing the hoping and how!

In other words, instead of denoting "done in a hopeful manner," today the word hopefully expresses the thought "I hope" in an unspecified and nebulous way.

Your sentence, "I assumed that you fed your dog, hopefully because you realized it was hungry, rather than because you felt guilty for leaving it alone for so long," is ponderous, to be sure, but your insertion of the word hopefully is both gratuitous and superfluous. Here is my more compact, succinct version:

I assumed you fed your dog because it was hungry and not because you felt guilty for leaving it alone so long.

In case you are thinking my primary criterion for judging the formation of sentences is brevity or concision, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Long--even convoluted--sentences can be good, necessary, and even powerful. Sometimes, however, economy of expression is also a good thing.

My grandfather used to say, "The more you say, the less the better," which is a homey way of saying the longer the sentence, the more likely misunderstanding (or something worse!) will ensue.

While your sentence communicates what I think you want it to communicate, you can save precious breath--not to mention space on the printed page--by paring down the sentence.

Your sentence contains 27 words; mine, 22. Now you could have begun your sentence with the words "I hope," and that would be fine (I assume you do hope your friend fed his dog because it was hungry and not for a lesser justifiable reason), and the word count would remain the same.

I hope you fed your dog because it was hungry and not because you felt guilty for leaving it alone so long.

In conclusion, neither your sentence nor your friend's sentence is incorrect; they're just bloated. Sometimes the less you say, the more the better.

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The semantic dissonance comes from combining “assume” with “hope”. If you’re assuming something, you’re not hoping for it. If you’re hoping for it, you haven’t simply assumed it to be true.

However, the terms don’t always have such force when used conversationally. “I assume that” can carry the same intent as “I’m guessing that”, for example, with the ending “... you have an explanation for painting the ceiling green.” The intent would be that the speaker expects an explanation.

Nevertheless, your first example exposes the full force of the semantic dissonance: “I assumed ... hopefully”, where hopefully isn’t used to qualify the assumption but is instead used as a rival sense of the underlying feeling. Your second example associates the hopefulness with the explanation rather than the assumption, and therefore scans better.

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To me, a native, both sound fine.

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    Please elaborate a bit more, perhaps add some sources to support your answer. – JJJ Apr 29 '18 at 21:27
  • To me, a native, neither sounds fine and I would never have posed a potential Answer without research… – Robbie Goodwin Apr 30 '18 at 19:33
  • If someone is a native speaker then they are the source. Don't you think? – Jacob Stewart Jul 10 at 19:33

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