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Alice: Do you want some cookies?
Bob: No thanks!

Does it mean that Bob doesn't want cookies but still is thankful or its just opposite of thanks?

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24  
Strictly speaking "No thanks" would mean the person is not giving you any thanks. With a comma, "No, thanks", means "No, but thank you anyway" or similar. –  rmx Mar 21 '11 at 15:14
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@rmx: You're right, of course, but many people might type (or text) "No thanks" in less formal communication, which sometimes eschews some or all punctuation. If someone sent me a text message that said "No thanks" or even "No thanks!", I would interpret it the way we do when a comma is present. –  Andy Mar 21 '11 at 17:53
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Is this written or spoken? That comma between "no" and "thanks" is vitally important, without it the answer is somewhat abrupt. –  thursdaysgeek Mar 21 '11 at 18:32
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These comments are distracting to someone who needs to know actual real world usage--Out of context "no thanks" would NEVER mean "I get no thanks", it would always mean "No, but thank you for offering" –  Bill K Mar 21 '11 at 19:13
    
@Bill K: Unless it was deleted, I don't see any comments above which imply that. The question seems to imply that, though. –  advs89 Mar 21 '11 at 21:17
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9 Answers

up vote 34 down vote accepted

I always understood this to mean "no, but thanks for the offer."

Saying no would be a little blunt, so its just a polite way of refusing.

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Ah, the "politeness" of modern English. –  Naftuli Tzvi Kay Mar 21 '11 at 23:12
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It is mere politeness. When somebody offers you something that you do not need or want, you just say "No, thanks!", thus showing that you are grateful for the offer.

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Contrast this with French, where if you are offered something "Merci" usually means "No, thanks": a trap for English speakers. –  Colin Fine Mar 21 '11 at 14:32
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@Colin: Yes — “Thanks” and “No, thanks.” are opposites, but “Merci” (to an offer) is an ellipsis of “Non, merci.” Similarly confusing is “plus” in, eg, “Plus de vin, svp!” meaning “ne plus de vin”, “no more wine.” (“Encore du vin” is the correct thing to say when feeling bibulous, if I remember right.) –  PLL Mar 21 '11 at 15:00
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@Colin_Fine -- so how do you say "Yes, please"? –  Malvolio Mar 21 '11 at 18:54
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Oui, s'il vous plaît? –  timur Mar 21 '11 at 21:45
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The words no thanks always mean basically the same thing: "no, thank you [for offering it/them to me]". In spoken English, there can further emotional meaning conveyed by the intonation, but this is generally hard to indicate in written English. However, the particular case of using an exclamation point and no comma (No thanks!) is often used to suggest the intonation that conveys something like "No, I really don't want it", which might be because the speaker has never liked cookies, or is valiantly trying to stay on a diet, or has diabetes and must avoid cookies, or has already declined before.

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I have to admit it is a little far-fetched in the cookie example, but I think it is important to mention the potential "strong no" meaning of "No thanks!" which is (currently) absent in the (currently) runaway top two vote-getting answers. –  John Y Mar 21 '11 at 22:05
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In the brief context, it is almost certainly saying "No, thank you." in an informal way, since this is a discourse between two people and especially when one is offering something 'nice' to the other.

In general discussion, people will tend to be more explicit if the meaning is intended such as..

Yes I did such and such, no thanks to you!

As has been stated already, it is basically just a polite way to decline that became shortened over the years from "No, thank you" to "no thanks."

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(Assuming Bob says "No, Thanks!")

Bob doesn't want any cookies, but he's showing that he's grateful for the offer. As opposed to just "No", it's the politer way to say the same thing.

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"No, Thanks" and "No Thanks!" mean different things, depending on the prosody. The stress and intonation will convey non-verbal information.

For example, no thanks (unstressed, "no" on a high tone and "thanks" on a low tone, equal duration for both words) will indicate a polite decline of the offer of cookies.

no THANKS (stress on "Thanks", "no" on a mid tone and "thanks" on a high tone, "thanks" taking up half the duration of the "no") will indicate a firm refusal, or perhaps a disdain of the offer, or perhaps an allergy to an ingredient in the cookies.

Reading this dialogue from Young Frankenstein will not convey the prosody, but you might get the idea, even if you have never seen the movie.

Frau Blücher: Would the doctor care for a... brandy before retiring?

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No. Thank you.

Frau Blücher: [suggestively] Some varm milk... perhaps

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No... thank you very much. No thanks.

Frau Blücher: [suggestively] Ovaltine?

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: NOTHING! Thank you! I'm a little - tired!

Of course, there's a horse whinny after "Goodnight, Frau Blücher."

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This is teetering on the borderline of getting an upvote from me. mgkrebbs gave substantially the same answer, but in a shorter, more understandable, and more usable form. I think your answer gets a little bogged down in the pronunciation details (which I don't completely agree with; you should have just stopped at "stress on thanks"), but it gets a few bonus points for the movie quote. –  John Y Mar 21 '11 at 22:12
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A way of saying no that leaves open the door to future invitations of the same type, rather than a blanket refusal. Used when one is just not interested at that particular point in time, vs. never being interested.

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The phrase actually doesn't imply that you would ever want whatever was being offered. It is simply used as a polite way of saying, "No." Technically, it implies that you are grateful for the asking but you don't actually need to be grateful to say so. –  MrHen Mar 21 '11 at 16:57
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Primarily, Bob cannot answer the question raised by Alice as "No Thanks," it would be grammatically incorrect to say so. The correct response by Bob would be "No, Thanks" - which means "no, but thanks for the offer"

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It means, "I appreciate the offer, but I decline"; "No, but thank you for asking".

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protected by RegDwigнt Jun 21 '12 at 12:17

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