Common Usage Dilemmas

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Fortunately for me as the grammar maven, English grammar and usage has many confusing issues. And fortunately for you, only a handful of them come up with any frequency. Let's take a look at these hot issues in the grammar news: how to use hopefully, whether to use like or as, and ending sentences with a preposition.

Hopefully

Since the eighteenth century, hopefully has been used to mean “in a hopeful manner,” as in Robert Louis Stevenson's saying, “To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” But during the past generation, the adverb has come to mean “it is to be hoped.” Today, it is also applied to situations as well as to people, as in “His fried eel will hopefully turn out well.” In addition, rather than modifying (describing) a specific verb, as in Stevenson's example, hopefully is now used to modify an entire sentence.

Except for a few lone holdouts (and if you're one of them, please don't contact me), most people and dictionaries now accept hopefully as meaning “it is to be hoped.” So don't sweat this one.

Like/As

The like/as debate is another potential minefield. About 50 years ago, a cigarette company started a new ad campaign whose centerpiece was this jingle: “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” When English teachers, grammarians, and various pundits reacted with horror at the misuse of “like” for “as,” the company came back with this rejoinder: “What do you want—good grammar or good taste?” Thanks to all the free publicity Winston received, the marketing executives no doubt laughed all the way to the bank.

Here's the generally accepted like/as rule:

  1. Use like or as as a preposition to join a noun, as in these examples:
    • Cleans like a blizzard
    • Blind as a bat
  2. Do not use like as a conjunction to introduce an adverb clause, as in this example:
    • Incorrect: Nobody can do it like McDonald's can.
    • Correct: Nobody can do it as McDonald's can.

Here's my advice: Write sentences that sound good like a sentence should. Don't create awkward-sounding sentences to conform to this (or any) rule.

Ending with a Preposition

Some prissy scholars have tried (with a great deal of success) to foist a bunch of phony Latin grammar rules into English grammar, especially concerning the issue of not ending a sentence with a preposition. To be correct, you could say, “This off me ticks.” To sound smooth, you could end with the preposition and say, “This ticks me off.”

My advice? Make your sentences sound natural and graceful. If a few sentences end with a preposition, you'll be just fine. I give you permission to write “This ticks me off” rather than “This off me ticks.”

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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