Monday, August 25, 2014

THE GIDDY GRAMMARIAN: The Fault is in Ourselves

by Lisbeth Eng

It always galls me when someone corrects my grammar, but then I remind myself that I am not perfect, despite the ceramic plaque in my kitchen, which reads, “I may have my faults, but being wrong is not one of them.”

A few years ago, I sent an email to my team at work to inform them that I might be a little late the next morning: “I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. Hopefully, I will be in by 10:00.” One of my bosses, whose father happened to be a college professor, corrected me. Apparently, I should have written, “I hope that I will be in by 10:00.” My boss explained that the way my sentence was written implied that I would walk into the office at 9:55 am brimming with hope. In other words, the adverb “hopefully” modified the verb phrase “will be in” and described the manner of my entrance. She then threw down the gauntlet by adding that I, as a writer, should be aware of this common grammatical pitfall. Now the gloves were off!

I immediately grabbed my dictionary and looked up the word “hopefully,” to see if somehow I could counter her argument. I had a reputation to defend. Imagine my relief when I read in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary that the definitions for the word “hopefully” were: in a hopeful manner, it is hoped, I hope, we hope.

The dictionary goes on to explain in a long but fascinating paragraph the roots of the controversy. (Please refer to your own Merriam-Webster’s to read it in its entirety, as it is too long to include in this column.) In a nutshell, it said that words such as interestingly, clearly, unfortunately, and hopefully can be used not only to modify a verb, but also to modify a sentence. It even gives a name to this type of adverb: disjuncts. My sense of vindication was complete when the dictionary declared that the usage in my email was “entirely standard.”

Here are a few examples of disjuncts:

“Frankly, she should have investigated the matter before correcting others.”

“Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to remain silent, until my accusations could be confirmed.”

“Clearly, one should avoid antagonizing one’s boss, lest one risk vindictive reprisals, which may affect one’s employment.”

Despite the overwhelming impulse to point out the error of my boss’s ways, I decided to let the matter drop, but made sure that any future emails addressed to her would be free of disjuncts. I will have to be satisfied in my own rectitude, and with the opportunity to share this with you, dear reader.♥

Lisbeth Eng works as a Compliance Officer in the financial industry by day and writes historical romance by night. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English, and speaks a smattering of German, Italian and French. Please visit her at



1 comment:

  1. Grammar nit-picker that I am, I've long gnashed my teeth at the way "hopefully" evolved, and still use "I hope" instead. But the incorrect usage that HASN'T evolved, as far as I know, is the use of the word "momentarily" instead of "in a moment". To me, if someone says, "I'll be there momentarily", she is suggesting that she'll pop her head in the doorway for a moment and then disappear!