When we say goodbye to people, especially in a casual setting, we’ll often reference the next time we expect to see them. Of all the ways to do this, is it correct to say “see you then”?
It is correct to say “See you then” to someone if you’ve already mentioned the time or date of your subsequent encounter. It’s a casual way to say goodbye and mention the next preset time you’ll see them. Formally, you’d be more likely to use the full expression “I will see you then.”
This article will explore what “See you then” means, how and when we can use it, and alternatives for this remark. We’ll also consider other idioms and common phrases we use in English.
What Does “See You Then” Mean?
When you say “See you then” to someone, you casually say you will see them again at a specific meeting time you have already agreed upon. It is the shortened form of “I will see you then.”
The idiom “see you” is an informal way of saying “goodbye,” and we use it with many adverbs such as “then,” “later,” or “soon” (source). These all serve to specify when we will next “see you.” When we say “See you then,” we say that we will see you next at the time we’ve already discussed.
The verb “see” has many definitions. When we use it as part of “See you then,” we mean the most common definition: to perceive with the eye. “You” obviously refers to the person we are addressing. And “then” is the adverb that qualities the verb and means “at that time” (source).
“See you then” is an abbreviation of the complete sentence “I will see you then.” Here we omit the subject “I” and the modal verb “will,” but because it’s such a common phrase, we imply those words because their meaning is understood entirely by context.
How Do You Use “See You Then”?
We use “see you then” as a farewell greeting when speaking to someone or as a casual email signoff. It has come to mean “goodbye” in a very informal sense when we want to reference our next meeting.
“See you then” stands alone as a minor sentence, although it can also be part of a complete sentence, especially if we want to make it sound more formal. Nonetheless, we speak it more than we write it, and it is a very familiar expression.
Consider the dialogue below that illustrates how we might use “See you then.”
- Person 1: This has been fun! I look forward to chatting at the book club next month.
- Person 2: Take care. See you then!
As you can see, “See you then” is in response to the agreed meeting time of “next month” and references the time when Person 2 will next see Person 1.
When Can You Use “See You Then”?
We use “See you then” anytime we leave somewhere and want to refer to when our next meeting will be. We can also use it in informal written communication, especially as a sign-off for an email or an instant messaging platform.
In written and spoken form, we always use it in the implied future tense. You can’t convert it into the present or the past because it explicitly references a time in the future.
You might say, “See you then” when you are leaving a party and have chatted to your host about when you will next see them. Or you might have a dialogue to set up a meeting with someone and, on departure, you confirm that will be the next time you see them.
In What Context Can You Use “See You Then”?
We use “See you then” in a casual context, both in speaking and writing, to refer to an upcoming planned meeting. It’s an informal phrase that is well understood in everyday conversation.
We use less formal language to communicate with family, friends, and even colleagues. In all of these contexts, it is polite to say, “See you then.” We might have been emailing or instant messaging about a meeting with a co-worker and, having agreed on a time and date, you might conclude your interaction with “See you then.”
Or, you could be at lunch with your sister. She says, “Don’t forget about Aunt Jane’s birthday party next week,” and you reply, “Yes of course. See you then.”
Almost always, “See you then” will be the conclusion of your conversation or online chat and most often does not require a response. You might just reconfirm the plans and respond with something like, “That’s great, look forward to it” or something similar if you feel that a response is necessary.
Using “See You Then” in a Full Sentence
As we’ve discussed, we primarily use “See you then” as a final remark to say goodbye or end a written dialogue. Let’s consider a few examples showing how this might work in everyday life.
- Person 1: Let’s meet here at lunchtime tomorrow to prepare for the presentation.
- Person 2: That sounds good. See you then.
- Person 1: Don’t forget we have an algebra exam at 7 AM on Tuesday.
- Person 2: Ugh. See you then.
- Email 1: It will be good to discuss this topic further. How’s 4:30 PM tomorrow?
- Email 2: That sounds good. See you then.
- Text 1: Are you free for lunch next Tuesday at 1?
- Text 2: Yes, that suits me. See you then.
You will note that “See you then” always responds to a previously discussed meeting time. We wouldn’t use “See you then” on its own if there were no context to explain what “then” refers to.
When Not to Use “See You Then”
You should not use “See you then” in a formal or business context because abbreviated phrases are inappropriate in this context. You should also not say “See you then” if you haven’t already referenced an agreed meeting time.
We use more formal language with those in authority, clients, or even strangers. In those situations, it’s better to use more formal alternatives, not abbreviations.
Also, if we haven’t already agreed on an upcoming meeting, it wouldn’t be appropriate to say, “See you then.” If we just expect to see the person at some unspecified time in the future, we would rather say “See you around” or “See you soon” or something like that. When we say “See you then,” we are referencing a specific meeting point in the future.
What Can You Use Instead of “See You Then”?
Instead of “See you then,” there are many alternatives we can use. We’ve already mentioned that it’s the shortened form of “I will see you then,” so we can always say that instead, and it’s preferable in a formal context.
When we add the missing words and create a complete sentence, we immediately make it seem more formal instead of a casual remark.
We could also be more specific, and instead of “then,” we could mention the time or date of our next meeting. We could, for instance, say, “See you next Tuesday” or “I will see you on the 23rd at 10 AM.”
Depending on the context, there are other options we can use, such as the following:
- I look forward to seeing you then.
- I look forward to meeting you then.
The first is the most formal and polite way of saying, “See you then.” It has the same meaning but is a less casual way of expressing that you anticipate seeing someone at a specific time in the future.
The second implies that you haven’t met the person before, so it would be appropriate if the upcoming meeting would be your first interaction. We use both of these in written email communication.
Conversely, if we were being very informal, we may say, “See ya then” or “Catch you then.” Both of these are very casual colloquialisms that we use among friends.
We also come across other common expressions with “see you” regularly, but these have slightly different definitions, as shown in the table below.
|See you soon
|This implies you are likely to see the other person in the near future, but the specific meeting time has not been agreed upon.
|See you later
|This either implies that you will see the other person at another point later that same day or, colloquially, that you will see them at some unspecified time in the future.
|See you next time
|This implies that you will see them again, possibly when the next similar meeting occurs.
|See you around
|This is the most “loose” of the expressions and implies that you will probably see the person again but not with any formal arrangements.
English speakers use idioms often, and they make the language more colorful. However, they are sometimes hard to understand because they don’t mean quite the same as the literal definition of the individual words.
For instance, “See you then” generally means “Goodbye, I’ll see you again at the agreed time,” but you have to know that because the individual words don’t tell the whole story.
There are countless examples in English of idioms we regularly use that may be tricky to understand. Below is a table of some common examples.
|A piece of cake
|Solving the riddle was a piece of cake.
|Judge a book by its cover
|Make judgments based on appearances
|His serious expression made me think he would be difficult to speak to, but he wasn’t. Just shows you can’t judge a book by its cover!
|Under the weather
|Jack’s going to pass on dinner because he’s feeling under the weather.
|Could eat a horse
|I’m so glad it’s dinnertime – I could eat a horse!
|Once in a blue moon
|Andrew washes his car once in a blue moon.
|A tough cookie
|Physically or emotionally strong
|Jane is a tough cookie; she sprained her ankle but carried on dancing.
|A dime a dozen
|It used to be hard to find face masks, but they’re a dime a dozen now.
|At the drop of a hat
|He loves going to movies and will join you at the drop of a hat.
There are two types of English idioms: opaque and transparent. An opaque idiom has no connection to its meaning (like “a piece of cake”), and a transparent idiom has a more easily understood meaning (like “could eat a horse”) (source).
Generally, you can work out the meaning of transparent idioms, but the more opaque ones will require a deeper knowledge of the language. The more you read and hear English, the more familiar you will become with many idioms.
There are many common phrases in English we use in everyday language. Phrases, by definition, are a collection of words that make up a single idea. Phrases are not necessarily idioms, but idioms can be phrases such as “See you then.”
There are five basic types of phrases, all named for the root of the phrase (source).
- Noun phrases (such as “the actors in the play”)
- Verb phrases (such as “ride a bike”)
- Adjective phrases (such as “happy to help”)
- Adverb phrases (such as “extremely unlikely”)
- Prepositional phrases (such as “in the garden”)
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
In all of these, we understand the individual words, but when they’re put together in a phrase, they make a single picture.
We use “See you then” mostly in informal settings as a closing remark in conversations or to say “Goodbye” while referencing a future meeting time. Because we use it so much, it’s widely understood and used chiefly in dialogue with friends and family.
Sometimes, using idiomatic expressions is inappropriate, and some situations require more formal language. In these cases, it’s always best to use complete sentences with precise meanings, so nobody is confused or offended.