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Is “Thank You” One Word or Two?

Our parents teach us early on to say or write “Thank you” to people for their kindness and generosity. However, learning to use “thank you” in a sentence correctly is saved for grammar lessons taught in school.

“Thank you” is only correct as two words. It may also be hyphenated as a multi-word adjective. Most of the time, “Thank you” stands alone as a minor sentence in both speaking and writing. It is the most common way to express appreciation in the English language.

This article will discuss the different definitions and uses of “thank you” in various forms. It will also provide examples of when “thank you” is appropriate and when to use more formal or informal variations of “thank you.”

What Does “Thank You” Mean?

“Thank you” is a gratuitous response to a kind act or compliment. Saying “thank you” is more formal than its more casual counterpart, “Thanks.”

You hear it most in situations involving customer service. It is also a popular response to military veterans and those actively serving in the Armed Forces.

These formal situations commonly involve interactions between strangers expressing appreciation. For example, customers are appreciated for their business, and those serving in the Armed Forces are appreciated for their acts of protection.

“Thank you” is a typical response amongst friends and family when gifts and favors are involved. Giving gifts and favors go above the normal expectations of a relationship, so a proper expression of appreciation, such as saying “Thank you,” is an expected reaction.

The formal “Thank you” is also a response to a compliment, whether from a stranger, friend, or family member. Using “Thanks” for a compliment on your new haircut or a job well-done is less meaningful and appreciative than responding with a semi-formal “Thank you.”

We also relay grateful responses in writing. “Thank You” is a typical ending for both business and personal letters. Moreover, we use it when sending “’thank-you” letters. 

The words “thank” and “you” are always two words when written as a verb and a subject. “Thank” and “you” as a noun or adjective appear as two words or a hyphenated, two-word adjective when placed before the noun it modifies, respectively.

Here are some examples to better understand the use of “thank you” as a noun (green) or an adjective (blue):

  • The bride and groom send thank-you notes for every gift received.
  • The band always ends the concert with thank yous to the audience and crew.
  • He sent a thank-you gift to his teacher.

How Do You Use “Thank You”?

“Thank you” is a common minor sentence in English to quickly yet formally express appreciation. You can also find it within a long sentence describing why one is thankful.

Thank you” is built with a verb (red) and a direct object (green). Notice that there is no subject as per proper English grammar rules. This is because the subject “I” is implied by context. It would be redundant to say, “I thank you,” to a friend while standing in the same room.

Since “Thank you” drops its subject (seemingly becoming incomplete), it is a minor sentence. Minor sentences express meaning without adhering to grammar rules. Further on in this article, we will more comprehensively discuss the use of minor sentences in the English language.

Is “Thank You” Enough?

The English language has many phrases to express gratitude; however, saying “Thank you” is the simplest way to ensure someone understands your heartfelt gratitude.

Image by Tanya Gorelova via Pexels

For example, a friend arrives at your house for dinner with a bottle of wine as a gift. Your response to the gift is commonly “Thank you.” In this scenario, the gift of wine serves as a “thank you” for the dinner invitation, and saying “Thank you” is the formal and customary response in return.

The same scenario could elicit a more extended response, including a “thank you.” The person receiving the bottle of wine could also say: “I am happy to see you, and thank you for the bottle of wine.” In both cases, “thank you” are the appropriate response to the gift.

Another use of “thank you” in this scenario includes a written note or letter the guest sends a day after the dinner. A written “Thank you” is a formal way to show appreciation for the dinner. 

Many ask if they should capitalize the “y” when writing “Thank you.” The consensus of this rule is to capitalize the “y” when it is a salutation in a letter or email. It is unnecessary to capitalize the “y” of “Thank you” when it is in a standalone sentence or within a longer sentence.

When Can You Use “Thank You”?

Using “Thank you” to formally express gratitude and appreciation towards another person or group is rarely a mistake. Saying “Thank you” represents good manners necessary for good relationships (source). 

The rules of saying “Thank you” on formal occasions are a popular method of displaying proper social etiquette. These situations usually include receiving a gift for a significant event:

  • Weddings
  • Graduations
  • Bridal showers
  • Baby showers
  • Birthday parties
  • Retirement parties 

Informal situations that require a “thank you” are not as obvious. However, we tend to say “Thank you” when receiving a random act of kindness:

  • A friend buys lunch
  • Compliments on a haircut or new clothes
  • Compliments on a job well done at work
  • Compliments on seasonal decorations in your neighborhood 
  • A stranger lets you go ahead in the grocery line
  • A neighbor shovels the snow from your walkway
  • Holding the door open for another person
  • Letting a person with fewer items in their cart go ahead in the grocery store

In What Context Can You Use “Thank You”?

Showing expressions of gratitude is a well-known global custom. English speakers use “Thank you” in both oral and written communication.

We have discussed how and when to use “Thank you” and have given situational examples to understand the correct contexts to use it in. This minor sentence of gratitude almost always comes in response to an act of kindness, a gift, a favor, or a compliment.

However, there is one exception to these situations: gratitude in advance. There are moments when one expresses appreciation in advance to ensure “Thank you” is said before a busy event ends.

An example of this usually occurs during a formal speech at a large gathering, such as a formal fundraiser or wedding. Most guests expect to give a gift during the event; however, the address comes before the donations or gifts are opened. 

Regular expressions of anticipated appreciation are as follows:

  • I would like to say thank you in advance to everyone in attendance.
  • Thank you for being here and making our wedding day extra special.
  • Everyone in our organization says thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Using “Thank You” In a Full Sentence

Saying or writing “Thank you” independently as a minor sentence derives its full meaning from the surrounding context. However, we also say or write “thank you” in longer sentences to describe the reason for expressing gratitude. 

Below are examples of “thank you” in a longer sentence:

  • I cannot thank you enough for helping me move to my new house.
  • I want to thank you for your patience while waiting in line.
  • Both of us thank you for the dinner invitation.
  • Thank you for noticing my new haircut.
  • Thank you for shopping with us today.
  • We cannot thank you enough for attending our concert.
  • I am sending thank-you cards to everyone who gave me a graduation present.
  • It is important to say thank yous at the end of your speech.

When Not to Use “Thank You”

It is good practice not to use “Thank you” as a rude response to someone’s actions.

For instance, a person is ahead of you as you leave a store with your hands full and does not hold the door for you. The door quickly closes on you, and, in return, you shout, “Thank you!” in a negative tone.

In situations similar to the one described, one feels prompted to say, “Thank you very much,” in a negative tone. The extra emphasis points out that the person’s act of not holding the door was of no help.

Using “Thank you” sarcastically is the wrong use of this phrase and dilutes any sincere meaning of gratitude. There are few excellent responses to someone’s rude acts or comments, so it is better not to say anything at all.

Another improper use of “Thank you” is overuse. You shouldn’t repeatedly say “Thank you” for the same act because it requires someone to respond “You’re welcome” more than once. Excessive statements of gratitude diminish the act of kindness and will likely become annoying.

What Can You Use Instead of “Thank You”?

The English language provides many forms of gratitude besides a simple “Thank you” (source). You may opt for a casual “Thanks” toward a friend who shared an article link with you or a formal “I appreciate your time” toward a boss who agreed to meet with you last minute.

Here is a list of some formal and informal ways to show appreciation:

  • I appreciate you.
  • I am very grateful.
  • Much obliged.
  • Much appreciated.
  • You are the best!
  • You are too kind.
  • How thoughtful of you!
  • You made my day!
  • I owe you one.
  • Thanks.
  • I will never forget this.
  • Words cannot express my gratitude.
  • You are one in a million!
  • Thanks a bunch!

To learn more about saying “thank you” and using minor sentences correctly, you can check out these articles: Is It Correct to Say “Thank You So Much”? and Is It Correct to Say “Many Thanks”?

Open, Closed, and Hyphenated Compounds

Compound words have two or more words put together to make a new meaning. You can form compounds in three ways: open, closed, or hyphenated.

Understanding the rules of hyphenated compounds is necessary to use all three forms correctly (source). The hyphen joins multiple words acting as a singular unit to form compound adjectives that precede nouns. Giving a “thank-you note” is an example of this rule.

You may only hyphenate “thank you” when it functions as a multiple-word adjective for a noun following it.

  • The children sent thank-you gifts to veterans in the community.
  • The nurses received many thank-you cards from the patient’s family.

Another rule is to hyphenate words to avoid double vowels in a sentence or words that are written to spell out every letter.

Here are some examples in a table:

OPENlawn mowerNew home buyers often need to purchase a new lawn mower.
OPENhot dogI love getting a hot dog at the ballpark.
CLOSEDbathroomThe public bathroom is located in the back of the store.
CLOSEDbirthdayI am attending Joanne’s birthday party on Saturday.
HYPHENATEDhigh-techMy grandparents cannot use the high-tech gadgets that everyone my age owns.
HYPHENATEDmother-in-lawI enjoy gardening with my mother-in-law.
HYPHENATED SPELLINGr-e-c-e-i-v-eSome words are exceptions to the rule “i before e,” such as r-e-c-e-i-v-e.

Minor Sentences

We often use minor sentences in English to present meaningful expressions without adhering to grammar rules (source). 

As discussed, “Thank you” is an example of a minor sentence to communicate appreciation or gratitude. Other minor sentences consist of a single word, such as saying “Amen” to agree. 

The quantity of words does not identify minor sentences. Instead, we recognize them by noting the “necessary grammar” that is not included yet implicit by context.

Here are more examples of minor sentences:

ANSWERYes, indeed.
GENERAL TRUTHLike father, like son.
VERBLESSHappy birthday.
GREETINGGood morning!

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Notice that none of the above makes sense outside of context. That is because minor sentences drop “important words” to avoid sounding redundant in context. Minor sentences derive most of their meaning from the situation.

Final Thoughts

The English language provides many opportunities to express oneself in a meaningful way without using a large number of words. Making an effort to say a sincere “Thank you” in response to kind acts, gifts, and compliments is appreciated. Saying “Thank you” is also essential to building good relationships because it is good manners.