Learning to communicate the appropriate emotion through language isn’t as easy as one might think. Of course, you naturally want to maintain the appropriate tone, but no one wants to appear cold or grammatically blind in their interactions. Still, is it correct to say, “Thank you very much?”
Saying “Thank you very much” is a grammatically correct, if somewhat overused, way to express your gratitude. The intensifier “very” modifies the adjective “much” to indicate a greater degree of thanks, making this a great way to end a formal conversation or email. However, because of its frequent use, it has come to imply a modest level of thanks.
However, if you find yourself feeling repetitive with this phrase, there are other ways to communicate the same meaning without changing the unspoken message behind your words.
In this article, we’ll be addressing the best ways to say “Thank you” in different settings, including the phrase’s etymology. Read on if you want to know how you can take advantage of the nuances of connotation in this and similar expressions!
What Does “Thank You” Really Mean?
We derive “thank” from the same roots as the English word “think.” By saying “I thank you very much,” you inherently state that you will often think of what this other person has done for you (source).
However, the meaning has somewhat shifted over time. While its users originally intended the expression as a solemn, sincere phrase, the words “thank you” have become so common that many find themselves looking for synonyms. What was once reserved as a serious show of deep gratitude has now become repetitive!
The Origins of Please and Thank You
The expression “Thank you” dates back to at least the early 1400s in Middle English as a way to acknowledge a favor (source). According to David Graeber, the expressions “please” and “thank you” originated out of the concepts of indebtedness and feudal deference (source).
He also notes that with the rise of the middle class during the commercial revolution of the 16th and 17h centuries, the expressions became common among the shops and offices of England during the period.
By applying the expressions to the common man instead of restricting them to the upper class, English speakers communicated the value of individuals as equal and deserving of such courtesy.
We can trace much of this sense of classlessness to Protestant values and particularly to the Puritans, who made up a significant portion of the rising middle class (source).
Sincere Gratitude or Cold Formality?
However, the phrase has culturally developed past the original meaning to become something of a habit. By saying “Thank you very much,” it’s not always clear that you are expressing genuine, sincere gratitude as much as you are signifying to the other person that you understand the social rules of the interaction.
For example, when someone moves in a hallway so that you may pass, it’s likely an impulse to say “Thank you.” However, it’s improbable that, after thanking this person, you’ll dwell on the moment for longer than a second, and you’ll certainly not return to this moment to “think of them often.”
Adding “very” to the expression intensifies the level of thanks, but this, too, has lost much of its impact through formality and overuse. So what is the best way to say “Thank you very much?”
Synonyms for “Thank You Very Much”
If you feel that you’ve used the phrase “Thank you very much” often enough that the phrase is losing its social value, it may be time to look at some other ways to express yourself.
When you find yourself wondering, “What is another word for thank you very much?” try substituting the phrase with one of these synonyms:
- Thanks a million
- Thanks a bunch
- I appreciate it
- I’m thankful that
- I’m grateful for
- I truly appreciate it when
- Thanks kindly
- I’m so grateful
- Thanks a ton
- I’m much obliged
- Glad you’re here to help
Remember, these phrases, like any other, each carries its own level of social weight. Therefore, the best way to understand when it is most appropriate to use any of these phrases is to consider the connotation and denotations of each word.
Due to the unwritten social rules of a professional workplace, it is entirely possible to create a moment of social awkwardness by reacting in a way the other party might see as overly emotional.
Still, if you feel you have a strong personal relationship with a coworker, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Thank you so much for your help; I really appreciate it.” In times of repetition, never forget that other words say “Thank you” and show appreciation!
For further reading on how to express your appreciation in a grammatically correct way, check out this article about whether it’s “appreciation of” or “for.” You may also want to check out “Is It Correct to Say, ‘You Are Most Welcome’?”
“Thank You Very Much” vs. “Thank You So Much”
When choosing between the phrases “Thank you very much” and “Thank you so much,” it’s helpful to keep two things in mind: what level of gratitude you are hoping to express and to whom you are speaking.
“Very” and “so” are both grammatically correct, but the implications of the words seem to express different levels of thanks.
Because the phrase “Thank you very much” is more common, it has become a relatively neutral expression appropriate for formal conversation between colleagues. In contrast, the word “so” implies an even higher degree of thanks.
While colloquial and more suitable for use with people you consider closer friends, it carries with it a greater emotional intensity. Thus, while both terms are appropriate, they are not exactly interchangeable.
Imagine the work email we discussed previously. If you were to respond to a simple work favor with the phrase “Thank you very much,” no one would think anything of it.
If, however, you were to respond, “Thank you so much,” the uncommon use of the word “so” might give your colleague pause. By replying with a level of gratitude that didn’t appropriately match the casual, easy manner of the favor, your words may actually come off as insincere or sarcastic.
This example may seem dramatic, but as anyone who has ever worked in an office could tell you, communication often is!
When we speak, whether we choose our words carefully or not, we send messages beyond what our words technically mean. By understanding how little words like “very” and “so” impact our communications, we can better understand our interactions with the world.
Grammarians refer to “very” and “so” as intensifiers. Intensifiers are adverbs we use to enhance and strengthen the meaning of expressions and phrases. By adding intensifiers to a sentence, you can increase the level of feeling in the otherwise standard sentence (source).
Let’s look at a few examples:
- I’m sorry for your loss. It must be hard.
- I’m so very sorry for your loss. It must be extremely hard.
In adding the intensifiers “so,” “very,” and “extremely,” the writer can more authentically express the emotion behind their words. Using intensifiers can give your communication deeper, more genuine meaning and avoid coming off as uncaring.
To establish a better feel for the role that intensifiers play in a sentence, read through these common examples in the chart below:
|Very||I was very sad to hear the news.|
|Rather||It was rather a shame that you were late for the film.|
|Too||Don’t worry too much about the mistake.|
|Really||I was really excited to meet with my friend today.|
|At all||Did she say that she didn’t care at all about the cost?|
|Incredibly||The mother was incredibly proud of her daughter’s progress.|
|Insanely||The man was insanely rude when asking for a refund on his purchase.|
It’s not only normal to use intensifiers back to back; it’s incredibly common!
It isn’t unusual to hear someone use more than one intensifier within a single sentence in regular speech. For example, rather than saying, “Thank you very much,” a person might say, “Thank you so very much,” or possibly, “I’m really so very thankful for your help.”
Just as using a single intensifier adds intensity to your tone, two intensifiers can have double the effect. By doubling the number of intensifiers you use, you can increase the level of gratitude you are expressing!
There are only a few things to be wary of when using multiple intensifiers within a single sentence: tone and clarity.
While intensifiers are common within speech — particularly among familiar friends — they can be frowned on in formal writing. Also, by using an excess of intensifiers, you increase the overall word count of a passage, which can lead to issues in clarity.
Rather than using a series of intensifiers to increase the intensity of a single word, it may be best to choose a single word that conveys the same level of intensity.
Look at this example below:
- Option One: You look so dreadfully pale lately. Are you feeling very sick?
- Option Two: You look sallow today. Are you feeling ill?
While option one is grammatically correct, its overuse of intensifiers leaves it feeling cluttered. The second option is clearer, making it appropriate for written communication or a more formal level of conversation.
When it comes to communication, choosing the correct tone for the conversation is vitally important, and no tool is greater in helping understand tone than a healthy grasp of connotation.
Connotation and Denotation
Nearly every word in the English language has two meanings: its connotation and denotation. Denotation refers to a word’s “dictionary definition,” while connotation references the word’s hidden, often socially-driven meaning.
By understanding connotation and denotation, you can better grasp the hidden social cues present in every spoken or written interaction.
Denotation vs. Connotation
When compared to connotation, denotation is relatively easy to understand. The word’s denotation concerns “explicit” meaning, which we often refer to as its “dictionary definition.” The denotation of a word is direct and often without any emotion.
By contrast, the connotation of a word is concerned with the “implicit” meaning behind the word. Thus, connotation shows both emotion and societal expectations.
Just as you can set yourself up for an awkward interaction by misusing the phrase “thank you,” you can create conflict by ignoring the connotation of a word in exchange for its purely denotative meaning (source).
Positive and Negative Connotations
Language is potentially emotionally charged. Every word possesses the power to express emotion; often, communication is less about what you say and more about how you chose to say it.
Understanding the nuanced positive and negative connotations behind a word is the best way to avoid social awkwardness and enhance the power of your own communication.
The University of Central Arkansas has a helpful table on connotative words. Read through the examples we provided in the chart below, and see if you can notice a trend (source).
Though language tends to be far more nuanced than simply “positive,” “negative,” or “neutral” connotations, by mastering the basics, you can better learn how this aspect of language works. From here, you can move into the deeper nuances behind each word.
Tips for Understanding Connotations
At this point, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed slightly. If every word is loaded with history, how could you ever hope to communicate effectively? In a world where “Thank you very much” differs from something as simple as “Thank you so much,” how can the average person understand every connotation?
The truth is, there’s not necessarily an easy way. It’s not an overnight process, but every great speaker, writer, and leader got their start somewhere! If you’re hoping to increase your understanding of connotations, try these tips:
Read: the best way to help your brain process language functions is to expose yourself to as much language as possible. Make a habit of reading before bed!
Watch Television Mindfully: Watching television doesn’t have to be a brain-numbing task. After all, every episode of any sitcom you’ve ever seen started with a written script. Study the interactions between the characters. Look at the root of their conflicts and note how often miscommunication is at the source.
Study Etymology: What are some of your favorite words and phrases? Look up the history of these terms to better understand how language shifts over time.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Ask Questions: One of the best actions you can take for your personal growth and development is to continue learning. Always ask questions, and don’t be afraid to look up answers when you’re in doubt.
When expressing a neutral, casual level of gratitude, it is absolutely appropriate to say, “Thank you very much.” Still, as is always the case in this language, there’s more than one phrasing to get the job done right.
Think of connotation as an excellent opportunity to improve your own skills of communication! Whether you are filled with natural charisma or seem to constantly put your foot in your mouth, communication is an area in which anyone can improve.