1. How to Thank People in English Formally
Justin: I just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work on this project. I really appreciate the contribution you’ve made.
Kae: Oh, well, that’s nice of you; thank you for saying so!
K: Thank you very much for the invitation.
J: It was our pleasure, and thank you for coming.
J: I’m very grateful for all your help.
K: Oh, don’t worry about it; it was nothing!
Here, you saw different ways to thank someone in formal situations. Can you remember any of the phrases you heard?
In a formal situation, you could say:
- I just wanted to say thank you for…
- Thank you very much for…
- I really appreciate…
- I’m very grateful for…
After for, you can use a noun, or an -ing verb, like this:
- I just wanted to say thank you for your help.
- I just wanted to say thank you for helping us.
After appreciate, you can use a noun, or that plus a clause. For example:
- I really appreciate your support.
- I really appreciate that you made such an effort to support me.
When someone thanks you, you need to respond. The most basic way is to say you’re welcome. But, what can you do in a more formal situation?
In a truly formal situation, the most common way to respond is to thank the other person for something else.
For example, in one of the dialogues, you heard one person say:
- Thank you very much for the invitation.
The other person replied:
- It was our pleasure, and thank you for coming.
You can use phrases like you’re welcome or it’s my pleasure in formal situations, but it’s also good to add a second thank-you.
Alternatively, you could say something like this:
- Oh, don’t worry about it; it was nothing!
What do you think this shows?
Saying something like this is a way to say, “Stop being so serious and formal.” It shows that the other person doesn’t need to thank you in a very formal way.
This is an important point: remember that formal language is not always more polite. Formal language can sound cold or distant if you use it in the wrong situation.
You might need formal thank-yous in some companies or work situations, although many companies have a more relaxed personal culture these days.
You might also use them in some social situations, for example a wedding or party where you don’t know the people very well.
Most of the time, you’ll need to use neutral thank-you phrases. Let’s look!
2. Neutral Thank-Yous
K: Here’s your camera. Thanks for letting me borrow it!
J: No problem!
J: Excuse me, where’s the entrance to the metro?
K: It’s right there, just over the street.
J: Thank you!
K: You’re welcome!
K: How’d you enjoy the food?
J: It was great! Thanks!
K: My pleasure!
Let’s start with a question: what does ‘neutral’ mean?
‘Neutral’ describes language which is neither formal nor informal. Neutral language is the simple language which you can use in almost any situation.
Preparing for an exam coming up? Watch our lesson on IELTS Writing Task 1 – General to get more practice with formal, neutral, and informal language.
In the dialogues, you heard three ways to thank someone using neutral language, and three responses you can use when someone thanks you.
Do you remember the phrases you heard?
To thank someone using neutral language, you could say:
- Thanks for…
- Thank you!
To respond, you could say:
- No problem!
- You’re welcome!
- My pleasure!
Easy, right? Neutral language is the most common form.
You can also see that in neutral situations, the interactions are much shorter. In formal situations, you need to speak more. For example:
- I just wanted to say thank you for letting me use your camera. It was a great help to me.
This is formal, and you can see that it’s quite long. In a neutral situation, you can just say:
- Thanks for letting me borrow your camera!
It’s much shorter and simpler.
Next, what about informal situations?
3. How to Thank People in English in Informal Situations
J: Your coffee’s ready. I put it on the table.
K: [grunt of acknowledgement]
K: I got you a chocolate bar.
J: Oh, thanks.
J: Did you get a haircut? Looks good!
K: [smiles and nods]
You can see that in informal situations, you often might not say thank you at all!
You use informal language with people you know well. In these situations, you often don’t need to be traditionally polite. So, you might say thank you another way, by making a noise, smiling, nodding, or something like that.
You can use thanks in informal situations. In British English, you can say cheers.
In informal situations, you often don’t respond to a thank-you, so you don’t use phrases like you’re welcome or my pleasure.
Of course, this depends on the situation and the people. If you’re not sure, then use neutral language: say thanks or thank you.
Now, you’ve seen how to thank people in English in formal, neutral and informal situations.
It’s important to get the tone right, but there’s another point which is important when you thank someone in spoken English. Can you guess what I mean?
4. Intonation in Thank-Yous
Of course, when you thank someone, the whole point is to be polite.
The words and phrases you choose are important, but your intonation is possibly even more significant.
You saw in the dialogues that the same phrase can have very different meanings with different intonation.
Using polite phrases means nothing if your tone and body language don’t match your words. For example:
- I’m so incredibly grateful for everything you’ve done for me and I don’t know how I can ever thank you.
If I say that to you, you know I’m not being polite; it doesn’t matter that I’m using very formal language, because the intonation is robotic and my body language doesn’t match the words I’m saying.
Similarly, if you hear:
The language is more informal, but the tone makes it sound genuine, and therefore polite.
However, sounding more excited or sincere is not always better: if you overuse this intonation, it can sound fake.
You need to match your language and your intonation to the situation, and then you’ll sound polite and natural when you thank people in English!
Keep practicing with this Oxford Online English lesson on Intonation.
Thanks for watching!