American English Thanks

We thank/express gratitude in different ways for different reasons. We may say:

  • "Thank you so much for the gift!" to show gratitude,

  • "Thanks for the wonderful meal." to compliment someone, or

  • "That’s all, thank you." to signal the conclusion of a conversation.

Many examples of thanking appear in a ritualized form, such as saying "Thanks" or "Thank you" to a bus driver, a cashier, or to a friend who has handed you something. Some speakers, especially those living in larger cities, may say nothing at all to a bus driver or a cashier. Others tend to automatically thank others for performing a service for them.

There are phrases that commonly precede or follow an expression of gratitude or thanks. These phrases perform another function for the speaker:

  • Complimenting (Thank you. You’re wonderful.)

  • Expressing affection (I really appreciate this. You’re a sweetheart.)

  • Reassuring the listener (I can’t thank you enough. This is just what I wanted. Blue is my favorite color.)

  • Promising to repay (I don’t know how to thank you. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.)

  • Expressing surprise and delight (Oh, wow! Thank you!)

  • Expressing a lack of necessity or obligation (I don’t know how to thank you. You didn’t have to do this for me.)

  • Exaggerating to emphasize the depth of the gratitude (I really appreciate this. You’re a lifesaver.)

Above passages from Eisenstein & Bodman (1986), pp. 168-172.

[ Anatomy of American thanks... ]

Examples and Strategies of American Thanking

(Eisenstein & Bodman 1986, pp. 179-183).

To a friend who lends you $5:

  • Thanks a lot. / Thanks. I really appreciate it. (Thanking)
  • Thanks, I’ll give it back to you Monday. (Thanking + promise / reassurance)
  • Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. (Expressing surprise + thanking)
  • Thanks a bunch. You’re a lifesaver. (Thanking + compliment)

To a friend who brings you a birthday present:

  • Oh, you know me so well. Thanks, I love it. (Expressing surprise + complimenting + thanking + espressing liking)
  • It’s beautiful. Thank you. (Complimenting the object + thanking)
  • It’s lovely, but you didn’t have to get me anything. (Complimenting the object + expressing the lack of necessity/generosity)

To a vice-President of the company you are working for who offers you an unexpected raise:

  • Gee, thanks. / Wow, thanks. (Expressing surprise + thanking)
  • Thank you. I’m glad you appreciate my work / I’m glad you’re happy with my work / That’s great! (Thanking + expressing pleasure)
  • That’s very kind of you. Thank you so much. (Complimenting the person + thanking)
  • Thank you very much. I really like working here. I'll continue to give it my best. (Thanking + expressing liking + promising)

To a friend who offers to lend you $500 you suddenly need:

  • You’re a lifesaver. I’ll never forget it. You can’t imagine what this means to me. (Complimenting the person/action + thanking + expressing indebtedness + expressing gratitude)
  • I’ll return it to you as soon as I can. I really appreciate what you’re doing. (Promising to repay + expressing appreciation)
  • Wow. I don’t know how to thank you. This is a lifesaver. (Expressing relief + thanking + complimenting the action)
  • Are you sure this is all right? (Expressing reluctance to accept)

To a friend who took you to lunch at a very nice restaurant:

  • Thanks for lunch. I’ll take you out next week / Next time, it’s my treat. (Thanking + promising to reciprocate)
  • This was very nice. Thanks a lot for the meal. (Complimenting the person/action + thanking)
  • It was a wonderful lunch. Thank you for inviting me. (Complimenting the event + thanking)

To a colleague at the office who tells you that she has organized a farewell party for you before you leave for a new job:

  • You’re wonderful. / That’s very nice of you. (Complimenting the person)
  • Oh that’s really nice! You didn’t have to do that! (Expressing surprise + complimenting the action + expressing the lack of necessity)

To a relatively new friend whose party you have really enjoyed:

  • You really made me feel at home. / The dinner was delicious. You’ll have to come for dinner at my place when we get a chance / I’d like you to come over to my place next time / I’d like to have you over. I’ll be in touch with you. (Complimenting action / person + offering reciprocity)
  • Thank you very much for the dinner and the company. I really enjoyed myself. I’ll see you later. Good night. (Thanking + expressing pleasure + leave-taking)
  • Thank you for inviting me. I had a great time. (Thanking + expression of pleasure)
  • Thank you for a wonderful evening. I hope we’ll get together again soon / Perhaps we can get together again soon / Let’s get together again soon. (Thanking + expressing a desire to continue relationship)

Responses to Thanks

How people respond to being thanked typically falls into these categories:

  1. Recognizing the gratitude and relieving the speaker of its burden (You’re welcome.)

  2. Indicating that it was gladly done (That’s quite all right.)

  3. Denying the existence of the need to thank or playing it down (Not at all / Don’t mention it.)

Above passages from Coulmas (1981), p. 77.

Thanks and apologies can be responded in similar terms (That’s all right / Not at all). What thanks and apologies have in common is the concept of indebtedness. Thanks implying the indebtedness of the speaker to the listener closely resembles apologies where the speaker actually recognizes his indebtedness to his listener. For example:

  1. Thank you for all your help. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.
  2. Don’t mention it/That’s all right. It’s really nothing.
  1. I’m terrible sorry I did this to you.
  2. That’s all right. It’s really nothing.

Above passages from Coulmas (1981), p. 72-73.

 

References

Coulmas, F. (1981). "Poison to your soul": Thanks and apologies contrastively viewed. In F. Coulmas (Ed.), Conversational Routine: Explorations in Standardized Communication Situations and Prepatterned Speech. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton Publishers.

Eisenstein, M. & Bodman, J. (1986). 'I very appreciate': Expressions of gratitude by native and non-native speakers of American English. Applied Linguistics 7, 2, 167-185.

 

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