A few weeks ago, I discussed using the subjunctive phrase, “If I were,” instead of the non-standard, “If I was,” when referring to the conditional future, however, did anybody listen?
Take a walk down any street, roam the city sidewalks and college campuses, and you’ll hear people “conversating” (another time, another post) with one another, usually in dialogue that plays out something like this:
“Girrrl—if I was you, I’d be telling that skank she best be steppin’ back from my baby daddy and get busy findin’ her own man, or else we gonna have a meetin’ in the ladies room.”
I swear, it’s as if I were talking to a brick wall. Tap, tap, tap…is this thing on? Argh.
As a simple messenger, I can only relay the information and hope for a change, one word and one reader at a time. With approximately 400 million Americans, there are only 399,999,933 more to reach.
But just the other day, as I sat there happily minding my own grammatical business, this little gem of a scenario took place across the sticky center aisle of mass transit:
Somebody…anybody…take an ice pick to my eardrums and put me out of my misery!
Sup-pose-a-bly [suh–pohz–uh-blee] badverb (used with direct object, but without direct knowledge of proper grammar)
- Capable of being supposed (valid only in American English, this definition is used as a defense solely by ignorant people).
- What ignorant people say when they really mean “supposedly.”
I can’t think of a single example sentence that shows the correct usage of “supposably,” and although it was in the dictionary (they couldn’t come up with any examples, either), it simply fell under the main entry, “Suppose.”
As stated earlier, it’s only accepted in American English, snubbed by The Royals and considered a non-word that’s mistakenly uttered by those savage and uneducated colonists—in other words, us.
My theory for its acceptance is that, since everything is theoretically “capable of being supposed,” we coined the word, “supposable.” Thus, it also allowed a loophole for “supposably” to slip in unnoticed and then be used incorrectly when meaning “supposedly.”
Isn’t that supposable? Supposedly.
Besides, my word processor indicates spelling errors on both “supposable” and “supposably,” but not “supposedly.” Hmm…spelling errors, no real dictionary entry…I’d safely say they’re non-words, or at best, non-standard ones. Slang.
My rule of thumb is this:
- When you want to use “supposably,” use supposedly instead, even if you think it’s wrong. By using supposedly, you’ll be correct 99.995% of the time.
- The other 0.005% of the time, also use supposedly. Even if you’re wrong—which you won’t be—it’s only once every two hundred times. Take a risk.
- If “purportedly” can be substituted for the questionable word, then use supposedly. They are interchangeable, but purportedly sounds a bit pretentious, especially if you even considered using supposably.
In other words—to spell it out for you—always use supposedly, not supposably.
Here is a visual aid to drive it home:
Peace and perfect grammar,