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I have observed a growing trend in which people substitute "no problem" for "you're welcome" as a response to "thank you". In particular, it seems to be an increasingly common response from servers and store clerks.

It seems to me that "no problem" isn't appropriate for all situations as a response to "thank you", such as when I express thanks for receiving a cup of coffee at the local doughnut shoppe. To me, responding "no problem" to "thank you" implies there might have been a problem, which was somehow narrowly averted.

Are there specific situations in which "no problem" is appropriate to use as a substitute for "you're welcome"?

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Not sure when it became common or how appropriate it is, but there are parallels in other languages. Kein Problem has similar usage in German, and Spanish has de nada “it's nothing.” They all have the same basic meaning as you're welcome, that helping you is no trouble for the server. –  Bradd Szonye Jan 17 at 19:30
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I've always said no problem much more often than you're welcome, which sounds stuffy to my Californian ears. What's new to me is how common the Australian no worries has become in the U.S. –  choster Jan 17 at 19:58
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"My pleasure" is a nice alternative. –  davidcl Jan 17 at 20:35
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Thanks are about gratitude, not creativity. And I think “no worries” means “it's ok, I wasn't inconvenienced” rather than suggesting that the recipient might be worried. And honestly, why react to pleasantries with accusations of impertinence? Accept sentiments as they're offered. –  Bradd Szonye Jan 17 at 21:10
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Can I just point out how bizarre it seems to say that "'no problem' ... implies that there was a problem," i.e. the literal opposite of what the phrase means? Sure, it'd be far from the only phrase that means the opposite of what it seems to, but I just find it very curious that anyone would jump to that meaning without a strong record of established usage. –  David Z Jan 18 at 0:46
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13 Answers

up vote 90 down vote accepted

The phrase "no problem" is a short version of "It was no problem," implying that it didn't cause the person any trouble or hardship to do the thing for which they are being thanked.

It could be construed as an act of humility or deference, because they are suggesting that the action they performed, and any inconvenience it may have caused them, are unimportant relative to the positive impact to the thanking party.

Fully unpacked, it goes like this:

"It was no problem for me to hold the door for you, because your ease of access is more important than me getting to my car faster."

Compare this with "You're welcome", which could be construed as an acknowledgement by the thanked party that they did do something worth thanking.

In an extreme case, this could be construed as more selfish or even arrogant, because the thanked party is allowing attention to be on them, instead of the other party.

"You're welcome to this open door, which I am holding open."

Obviously both connotations are usually very minor and mostly ignored; most of the time, people choose 'you're welcome' or 'no problem' because "It's just what you say when someone thanks you." I doubt many people actually think it's arrogant to say "you're welcome" unless it's said with a rude tone of voice. However, these implications may explain why 'no problem' has become more common, and could even be seen as a more polite reply.

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+1 to the spirit of this. People at my workplace are mostly informal, and I tend to reserve "you're welcome" for when something was actually difficult (in part because "it was no problem [staying up extra late]" just rings false.) –  user2714852 Jan 18 at 1:43
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This is by far the most accurate answer here. No problem is simply a way of saying "It wasn't any trouble for me to do this." –  Selonianth Jan 18 at 4:03
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I generally use "no problem" when I'm being thanked for a small courtesy, such as holding a door, for precisely this reason: it was no problem for me to do it. If I'm being thanked for a gift or a larger favor (willingly given), I say "You're welcome." On a couple of occasions I've been pressured or manipulated into a large undertaking as a "favor"; when the recipient said "Thank you" at the end, I have merely said "Hmm." in order not to encourage a repetition. –  MT_Head Jan 18 at 23:48
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"No problem" can also be used as a response to someone politely apologizing for a very minor inconvenience. In that case, "no problem" (or "no worries" if you're Down Under) means that no harm's been done, but also implies that the apology was appreciated nonetheless. The apology is basically a "thank you (in advance) for your forgiveness for this minor faux pas/delay/whatever", so you're still responding to a "thank you" in a sense. But responding with "you're welcome" would be nonsensical. –  Flambino Jan 19 at 2:26
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While one cannot argue about the semantics, I have to disagree with the general approach: if the question had been about the meaning of "Please" as in "Please, would you blah blah", your angle wouldn't work: "Your answer will please me if you deign give one"? I think it's plain wrong. This is 100% about usage and there have to be regional variations, irrespective of semantics: In my world, "You're welcome" has come to be a reasonably polite form, while "No problem" is informal. "No problem" is what a rude person trying to be polite would say. I certainly wouldn't use it. –  PatrickT Jan 19 at 5:34
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The main difference is that you're welcome is meant to be polite while no problem is meant to be friendly.

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This especially makes the difference when talking about servers. Servers at "fancy" restaurants will use a more polite tone (you're there for the atmosphere), while others will try to befriend you to get a better tip. –  Geobits Jan 17 at 19:49
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What on earth is not friendly about 'you are welcome?'. To me 'No problem' sounds like you might not have been so helpful if it would have put you out. –  Julian Jan 18 at 23:33
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@Julian It's not that "You're welcome" is unfriendly, it's that it's not actively friendly. It's formal. Think of it in the sense other languages have for addressing the second person, e.g., French "vous" versus "tu". And I think you're reading quite a lot into "no problem", especially without context. –  Matthew Read Jan 19 at 8:11
    
The answer suggested friendly and formal were antonyms. Actually it is all about context and non verbal stuff. I would be happy to receive any of these in some situations and could feel annoyed in others. –  Julian Jan 19 at 8:56
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Many languages use some form of "it's nothing" or "no problem" when a favor or nicety is done, to put the receiver of the action at ease that it was only a miniscule bit of effort to serve.

In Spanish, it's "de nada" or "no hay de qué" or "no problema" (I never hear, "you're welcome", and the last has made its way into English).

In French, it's "de rien" or "pas de quoi !" or "pas de problème" (more common than "bienvenue", in my experience).

Where "you're welcome" was much more common years ago, it's getting replaced as it has in Europe.

"Not a problem" and "it's nothing" seem to be more common in spoken English now than "you're welcome".

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THIS answer is the reason. My wife is bilingual in Spanish and English being that she's Mexican and I only speak English, as I'm not Mexican =D. That said, I've been converted to no problem after being around her family! –  Code Maverick Jan 17 at 20:57
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I know this is nibbling, but it would be "pas de quoi !" with a space before the exclamation mark in French. Just FYI. –  Arlaud Pierre Jan 17 at 23:51
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Also, "bienvenue" would make absolutely no sense in this context. In fact I even wonder why English says "you're welcome". –  Arlaud Pierre Jan 18 at 0:08
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*No problema is not Spanish. It’s el fako Spañuolo by Anglophones. In Spanish, one would say ningún problema, because English no is not the same as Spanish no, which actually equates to English not. You want an adjective, not an adverb. –  tchrist Jan 18 at 2:03
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@tchrist - Listen, I know you studied Spanish. But about 25% of my patients speak Spanish, and I pick it all up from them. So tell them that they are El Faking it, because so far, though it may be idiomatic, I've had no funny looks in conversing with other Hispanics. No hay alguna problema aqui. Yes, that's how they talk. Totes El fako. –  medica Jan 18 at 2:07
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Based on the other answers it seems not everyone has the following connotations with both terms, but I would argue that "No problem" implies that you did something out of the ordinary for someone, however that you did not consider it a problem. So in a sense you're disregarding the "thank you". In contrast "You're welcome" seems to imply that you appreciate their appreciation, as you in no way disregard their "Thank you".

Just to make it a bit clearer I have listed a number of responses to "Thank you" and how I would paraphrase the nuances hidden behind the reactions:

  • "You're welcome" - "You're welcome to what I just did for you"
  • "No problem" - "You didn't even need to thank me, it wasn't a problem in the first place"
  • "My pleasure" - "Making you happy already made it worth it, don't worry about thanking me" or alternatively in a shop setting/trade setting it could also suggest "It was my pleasure to make this deal with you"
  • "Anytime" - "It was some trouble to me, but I would do it for you any time"

So overall, in a shop setting I would expect them to appreciate the "thank you", so "you're welcome" seems to be the nicest response, although none of them seem to be incorrect or really wrong.

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So much lies in context:

"No problem"

Not as appropriate.

"Thank you for having us over for this party, cooking this wonderful meal, and really the live band, renting the services of James Earl Jones just to say wacky things in his Darth Vader voice and the fireworks you set up by hand and injured yourself on really were appreciated."

"No problem."

Okay. The problem here is somebody's recognized a lot of effort you've undergone on their behalf as a guest at a lavish party. In a sense you're turning around and saying "Well it was nothing to me really" which implies the guest wasn't worth much effort in your eyes. "You're welcome" works better here because it means you were glad to have made that effort for them. But it works best of course followed with "And thank you for coming etc..."

More Appropriate

<You held the door for somebody. They've thanked you.>

"No problem"

In this case, I'd say it's better than "Your welcome." Holding the door is a decent human thing to as is thanking someone for remembering to do it but it really is no problem. To say "You're welcome" to a door-holding could be seen as slightly more pompous, making too big of a deal out of a very small thing that we forget to do for each other sometimes when somebody is carrying a bunch of stuff or has a bunch of kids in tow.

You can't really go wrong with either but I do think people appreciate it when one is just a little bit more right and that essentially boils down to the level of effort you actually undertook. If you've very obviously gone through a lot of effort, it's nicer to say that they are welcome to reap the benefits of that effort. If you're just being as polite as we all should be all the time I think "no problem" is a better fit for suggesting it's what we all should do for each other all the time and that you'd do it again without thinking about it.

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Expressions like “no problem,” “no worries,” “it's nothing,” and their equivalents in other languages are an expression of humility. They don't mean that a service was no effort, but rather that it was no bother compared to what the recipient deserves. I'm not downvoting because clearly many people do take it the wrong way, but I think they're wrong to do so. –  Bradd Szonye Jan 18 at 16:04
    
I like it when language makes sense. Often times, it does not. This answer is the way I think it should be, but in practice I don't think this is how people use it. I have always wondered what a Spanish speaker might say to "Thank you for giving me your kidney. It saved my life..." I guess the answer is "It's nothing" –  TecBrat Jan 18 at 19:52
    
@BraddSzonye I don't necessarily disagree as there's an awful lot of room for gray area interpretation. But I think it's easier to take it one way rather than the other when the effort undertaken was clearly a great deal vs. just a polite thoughtful thing that didn't expend a ton of effort. Speaking as a sometimes awkward nerd raised by Norwegian immigrants, I have definitely offended when the intent was humility at times. Sometimes it's better to acknowledge the effort and that they were the reason you were happy to undertake it. But as I said, few would take either the wrong way. –  Erik Reppen Jan 18 at 20:00
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I would say the level of politeness and etiquette of which words to use depends a lot on the country/region you are in.

For example, "no problem" may sound a little informal to you when thanking someone for delivering you a cup of coffee. However, in Australia and New Zealand, "no problem" would be commonplace, and may also be shortened to "no worries", "cheers", or even just a smile or nod in return. A full "you're welcome" can almost sound a bit forced and inauthentic.

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As a guide, one may wish to consider the form in which the thanks was expressed.

As a response to 'Thank you' or 'Thank you very much,' I'd personally recommend sticking with 'you're welcome' or 'you're quite welcome!' to not sound overly familiar. One could also respond with 'It was no problem at all' if it fits the service provided (e.g. you walked a half-block out of your way to show them where a store was located.)

If, the thanks was expressed as 'Thanks,' the more informal 'no problem' seems more in keeping with the tenor of the exchange.

My internal guide makes me want to err on the side of formality, but that is just me.

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to discuss this lively and interesting topic!

;-)

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To me, the difference is in what is thanked for. I use no problem in a case, let's resume to the example of holding a door open, where the extra effort is almost the same. When two people want to go through a door, one of them has to open it anyway and - unless you are physically handicapped - holding it open for two seconds longer is no effort. Another example: making two cups of coffee instead of one is only a slight difference.

"You're welcome" instead I hear more often where there is an extra effort, but the person that is being done the favour is worth the extra effort to the person who does it. For example, watering your neighbours' plants when they are on vacation.

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When the coffee shop has less than one Michelin star, and is happy with that.

If they do want a Michelin star then it might still be perfectly okay to be that informal if they're going for a friendly vibe, because it's not like it's impolite or informal to the point of being overly familiar or anything.

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My partner just told me that she was once criticised by a customer in a bar for saying "no problem". Personally, I'd have just ignored that customer for the rest of the night (or in one bar I once worked in, kicked them out, as it was a student bar with a strict no-rude-customers policy because drunk students can be hard to deal with otherwise). –  Jon Hanna Jan 18 at 0:36
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"No problem" is appropriate when someone is thanking you for doing them a favor -- something you went a little out of your way for out of kindness or consideration.

"You're welcome" is suitable for cases unlike the above, such as being thanked for a party invitation (which was planned and meaningful) or a paid service (where it was the server's responsibility to do what they did).

That's what creates the sense of it being casual vs. formal, as noted in the other answers, and this taxonomy fits the other examples.

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I have many relatives (native English speakers) who are offended by "no problem." (I myself use "no problem," or sometimes "yep!" in informal response to "thank you.") Still, I would recommend "you're welcome" in all contexts except with friends, in case your listener is like one of my relatives. (I think a lot of "no problem" users don't realize that they come across as rude to some folks.)

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To add another opinion that hasn't been considered yet... I would say it depends on the intent of the thanker. Sometimes "Thank you" can be more "I'm sorry to have bothered you/put you out of your way" than actually expressing gratitude. In Japanese "sumimasen" (sorry/excuse me) is sometimes used where in English we would say "Thank you".

I would say if the thanker is feeling/looking a bit apologetic, then "Don't worry about it" or "No problem" is a more appropriate response. For example, perhaps they asked you for directions and you started giving them, but the directions turned out to be more complicated than either of you realised, so you ended up walking in the opposite direction with them for a little while. Or you are a salesperson in a shop and a customer asked you for another size of clothes - you looked on the shop floor, then the backroom, then looked it up in the catalogue, then rang other stores, etc. In these cases their "thank you" might be more apologetic, because they were asking you for more than they originally realised they were asking you for. So you let them know with a reply like "No trouble at all!" or "No problem!" to let them know that it doesn't matter.

However, if it's something that you planned to do for the thanker - like you bought them a really nice present, or you invited them to your house and cooked dinner, then they're not feeling anxious or apologetic, they're just grateful. So in this instance you say "You're welcome" to acknowledge that they are thanking you and let them know that you were happy to do whatever it was. "I was happy to" would also be an appropriate reply in this case if they've expressed the thanks as "Thank you for doing X".

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I'm an American expat living in German, and I've noticed this trend over the last few years from my compatriots. I also don't find "No problem" appropriate in many cases, but it does seem to be the norm now - at least in the United States. It's annoying because my German students are using it, too, in situations where "You're welcome" would be the appropriate reply. I attribute the over use of "No problem" to the dumbing down of the education system. Many people have a very limited vocabulary and may not even be aware that "No problem" doesn't fit the situation.

"You're welcome" is still good enough for me. It is polite and friendly.

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Cambridge says it's "used as a friendly answer when someone thanks you for something you have done". It notes it as informal, but I don't see why you'd think it was wrong, or indicative of "dumbing down". It's simply short for "it was no problem(to do it)". –  Geobits Jan 17 at 19:46
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Please provide references to support claims that the usage is inappropriate. Referring to common practices as “dumbing down” without support is inflammatory. –  Bradd Szonye Jan 17 at 19:59
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I agree that Babs' claim of "dumbing down" is perhaps too harsh, but it does reflect the idea that people are choosing one reply for all situations instead of the appropriate reply for each situation. It's not like "Hi" (informal) versus "I'm pleased to meet you" (formal), it's a matter of saying, "I acknowledge your thanks, but what I did was natural/expected" (that is "No problem") versus "Thank you for acknowledging that I went out of my way for you. (That is "You're welcome") –  Wayne Jan 18 at 14:19
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