English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is there a trace first person pronoun before the utterance "thank you", making it shorthand for "I/we thank you"?

A ramification of this question is an expression of gratitude I just heard that didn't sit right with me:

Thank both of you for coming.

This sounded strange, almost like my intuition was to interpret it as a command for someone to thank themselves (?). My intuition would have preferred

Thank you both for coming.

I convinced myself that the former would sound acceptable if there is an implicit first person pronoun preceding every "thank you" because "I thank you both for coming" is perfectly natural. Is there a trace there or is "thank you" an atomic phrase with some other underlying syntax (or none at all)?

Thank all of you!

share|improve this question

You're right that "thank you" could be used in either a singular or plural setting. So "thank you both" and "thank you, Raj" both work.

But "thank you" is a phrase, a shortened form of "I thank you" (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=thank+you); to split it and try to use its component parts as if they were joined -- and as if they were both nouns -- is misguided. As soon as you split "thank" from "you", the words become separate entities.

"Thank" is a verb, which is why, as you suggest, it demands a subject ("I" in the first person) when not used as a directive (e.g. Thank your mother). That's one reason why "Thank to both of you" doesn't work (i.e. is grammatically incorrect), and why "I thank both of you" does.

"Thanks" is a noun, so "Thanks to both of you" would be another grammatically correct option here.

share|improve this answer
I'd emphasize that a sentence beginning with a verb, like Eat the spinach, is generally an imperative or directive. Thank you is not this way because it is recognized as a special case which is formulaic shortened form, omitting the "I". When the both of is inserted, it breaks the special case recognition, and our perception falls back to the general grammatical rule, which makes Thank an imperative, so it sounds decidedly wrong. – mgkrebbs May 12 '11 at 4:08

Thank you both for coming.

is the easy, natural way to express this.

I thank you both for coming.

sounds very stilted and formal.

share|improve this answer

The answer is yes. There is a "trace". (Omitted and understood word) It can be "I" or "we".

share|improve this answer
So my first example ("thank both of you...") would be acceptable, despite its sounding very wrong to my ear? – WAF Jun 7 '11 at 0:36
Thank you, both. Not "Thank both of you". But yes, you are correct in that the subject can be omitted. – NateMPLS Jun 14 '11 at 5:21

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.