What is happening to the phrase "Thank you"?

Related questions:

  • Is thank you considered formal nowadays? Is thanks used more often?
  • Is there a decline in the usage of the phrase thank you observable among different generations, classes, regions or countries?
  • Is there a difference in how people express gratitude today compared to the past (by using different phrases)?

Preamble: I'm not seeking a discussion or criticism. I included my research on the topic below but it doesn't prove anything.

I'd like to hear about your experiences. It would be nice if you could include additional information and any research as well. Of course, there are other ways to show gratitude but my question focuses on this phrase and its usage. It is not about people becoming more impolite or less grateful.

Note: Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions. Certainly experiences inform opinions, but the best subjective questions unabashedly and unashamedly prioritize sharing actual experiences over random opinions. http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/

I did some research and found some articles on this topic (mainly related to British and American English). I tried to include relevant parts, not everything written might be related or some of them might be broader in scope. Please do not take it personally.

The excerpt below is from an article titled Why we don't say thank you any more - it's now cheers, fab or cool (which applies mainly to British English):

  • For many a traditionalist, it is the most important two-word phrase in our vocabulary.

  • But ‘thank you’ is falling by the wayside, replaced increasingly with less formal expressions of gratitude, a poll reveals.

  • Although the average person will say 'thank you' nearly 5,000 times a year, one in three are more likely to throw in a 'cheers' or 'ta' where it's needed, rather than risk sounding old fashioned.

  • One in 20 now say 'nice one' instead, while younger generations are more likely to offer a 'cool' than a thank you.

  • 'Merci', 'fab' and even 'gracias' were also listed as common phrases to use, as was 'much appreciated'.

  • One in twenty who took part in the poll of 2,000 people by the Food Network UK for Thank You Day, which is marked on November 24 said a formal 'thank you' was now not often needed in everyday conversation.


A discussion on this topic from today.com:

What happened to ‘please,’ ‘thank you’? Has society let these three simple words of civility and gentility slip away? The Rev. Sherri Hausser and Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz discuss why softening commands and acknowledging gestures are so important in our daily interactions.

From npr.org:

Listen to the conversations around you — colleagues at the office, customers in the coffeehouse line, those who serve you, those you serve, the people you meet each day. "Give me a tall latte." "Hand me that hammer." "Have a good one."

Notice anything missing? The traditional magic words "please" and "thank you" that many people learn as children appear to be disappearing.

Other polite phrases also seem to be falling by the wayside. "You're welcome," for instance. Say "thank you" to someone these days, and instead of hearing "you're welcome," you're more liable to hear: "Sure." "No problem." "You bet." "Enjoy." Or a long list of replies that replace the traditional "you're welcome."

There are many articles and studies on this topic also. The following includes a study on gratitude:

  • "Language in Life, and a Life in Language: Jacob Mey, a Festschrift." edited by Bruce Fraser, Ken Turner

Bonus article from psychcentral.com: Why ‘Thank You’ Is More Than Just Good Manners

Inspired by and related to: What happened to "You're welcome?"

  • 2
    While I don't know the answer to the question asked, I'd observe that "thanks" is still in fairly common use in Canada. "Please" seems to have diminished greatly--I hesitate to use it because it sounds to me to have either a commanding or a pleading tone--but "thanks" is alive and well here, I'd say.
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 2:19
  • 7
    Before answering 'Why' I think we should find out the answer to 'Is it the case?'. People say that Obama uses 'I' more than other presidents, but if you actually look at data, that is not the case.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 2:32
  • 1
    Google Ngram viewer shows a steady and constant rise in the use of "thank you" since the mid-1960s, and of "thanks" since the mid-1970s. Of course, this measures written use of those words, but it should have some weight, as some of these instances are taken from dialogue and quotations. Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 2:52
  • 2
    Just for the simplest comparison, I tried Google NGrams on 'Thanks' and 'Thank you'. Though it shows a great, constant over history preference for 'Thanks', it is extremely misleading. 'Thanks' is often used as a noun, or as the head of 'Thanks-giving', or 'Thanks be to...'. and I couldn't figure out how to exclude all those uses. Also, Google NGrams is for text, a wonderful persistence medium, but doesn't capture anything about spoken speech.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 23:41
  • 1
    Ermanen - 1) I don't see any comments involving NGrams. 2) Then all we have is our memory of what we say and what others say which of course is terribly biased. But if questions here on ELU were only about text, it's be a pretty poor site.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 0:59

2 Answers 2



After a set of exchanges in the questioner's meta question concerning issues connected with this one, I have edited parts of my response in order to soften its tone.

The OP later substantially changed the question from its original form in the light of this response and the comments under the question; this should be taken into account when reading the points below, which all relate to that original version of the question.

I have not attempted to respond to the most recent version, as I think there is no reliable way to assess or quantify the trends that the questioner is now asking about.

Partly for this reason, and partly because the question now seems to me to be excessively broad in the scope of usages it is asking about, I think there is a good case for deleting this question altogether, and for the questioner to replace it with a new one that is more narrowly focused.

It seems to me that your question makes some unjustified assumptions.

You focus on the supposed decline of "Thank you" as if there were no other ways of expressing gratitude; nor do you adequately support your premise that the expression of gratitude is declining. At a minimum, the absence of convincing evidence, notwithstanding the sources you cited, invites challenge.

For instance, the Food Network UK poll returned distinctly mixed findings, and the Daily Mail article describing it fails to include the details of the questions and other methodological aspects of the poll that would allow its readers to make an informed judgement about the poll's reliability.

The NPR article you mentioned is essentially a mashup of contradictory opinions, though one of the people quoted in it did have this point to make which rather undercuts your own position:

However, when it comes to the actual articulation [of formulas that mark civility], she [Cindy Post Senning, a director of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt.] says, "the words we use do change."

For example, Senning says, it is important to show respect for other people by greeting them when you first see them — in the hallway, at a meeting, on the street. The form of greeting, though, has morphed over time.

"How do you do?" became "Hello, how are you?" which eventually changed into "Hello, how are things?" Or "How's it going?"

As a result of the metamorphosis, Senning says, "today it would sound a little stilted and perhaps even disrespectful if a sarcastic tone is used to say 'How do you do?' "

And in the transcript of the Today segment you mentioned, we read the following snippet:

Ms. TWERDAHL: We're all perceived to be very, very busy and people's perception is that it takes more time to be polite than it does to just rush through something and be impolite.

But a couple of paragraphs later, this contention is contradicted by the empirical observations of one of the show's reporters:

ALMAGUER: Are we really too busy, too important or just too inconsiderate to say please and thank you? To find out, we headed to this Los Angeles coffee shop. After two hours and 27 customers, not a single person, not one, failed to say thank you. A few said please, but they were all thankful.

The rest of the discussion largely consists of all the participants platitudinously agreeing on the importance of civility as a social lubricant, plus some anecdotal assertions that parents today are too lax in enforcing the habits of civility on their children.

  • 6
    I must say I thoroughly disagree -- common courtesy has been completely lost. Why just today I was standing near a doorway talking to someone when a young fella came up. Rather than doing what any proper person would do and saying "Begging your gracious pardon, sir, but may this humble supplicant pass through yon door?" he simply said "Excuse me," smiled, and nodded his head in the direction of the door. Of all the nerve!!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 19:32
  • 1
    @Hot Licks Yes, Strunk & Wagnell insist that genuflection is necessary in such a case. Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 10:30

As a formal acknowledgement "Thank you!" can be seen in a positive light, but there is also the possibility of it being perceived as having ironic intent. Less formal acknowledgements such as "Cheers!" can be seen to offer a friendlier, if somewhat lightweight alternative.

  • "Cheers" has changed usage over time: my father would have expected a person buying drinks to say it as a signal to start drinking, while I would now expect the person receiving a drink to say it as a way of thanking for the gift
    – Henry
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 19:40

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