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    Posted on Sep 21, 2015

    Here’s Why "You’re Welcome" Is Not The Right Response To "Thank You"

    No problem? Nope, problem.

    Thank you: a polite expression of gratitude.

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    Saying thank you is good manners. That's not up for debate.

    But we do need to talk about the way to respond when being thanked.

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    You need to say something, right?

    Many people, particularly in the US, reply to “thank you” with “you’re welcome.”

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    As this Tumblr post points out, this has begun to change, as young people use and hear "you're welcome" sarcastically.

    And it's not just young people: To people from other parts of the world, “you’re welcome” can sound rude.

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    Brits, for example, can't help but hear a hint of condescension in there.

    But the problem with “you’re welcome” isn’t sarcasm. Well, not the whole problem.

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    It’s about meaning.

    Not that this is the intention, but "you’re welcome” can sound like you're taking the polite gesture from the thanker, and bringing attention to your kindness.

    To the unaccustomed ear, it can sound like “yes, I did you a favour, you should be thankful.”

    It’s not intentional, I’m sure.

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    But that doesn't make it any less ambiguous.

    Similarly “no problem”, or the reply favoured by our Australian friends, “no worries”, are both flawed.

    Often said with a dismissive shrug, "no problem" ​can​ be interpreted as simply denying that being kind is an inconvenience.

    But to those used to hearing "you're welcome," "no problem" can be sound like being kind is sometimes an inconvenience...

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    ...and that you might not have helped if it had been.

    Young people tend to respond to being thanked with "no problem", which older people find rude.

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    So it's a generational problem, yes. But also a linguistic one.

    Why is this? Here's where it gets technical...

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    Both "you're welcome" and "no problem" are phatic expressions, an expression whose sole function is to perform a social role.

    We use phatic expressions all the time. For example when we respond to “how are you?” by saying “good, you?”

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    Or by responding to "what's up?" with "what's up?".

    Often we use a phatic response when we don’t know what else to say. Saying "I'm OK," for example, even when we're not.

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    Or to simply acknowledge someone, or something, when there is no need to convey actual information.

    We know people aren’t (usually) actively asking how we are, so we respond phatically.

    But because "thank you" is a sincere expression, many common phatic responses sound empty in comparison.

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    The emptiness of the response is why some people tend to find "no problem" or "you're welcome" dismissive.

    So, what are the options? Are we at a linguistic impasse?

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    Thankfully, no.

    As the Brits have long known, the correct way to respond to “thank you” is to say "thank you".

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    Similarly, you can respond to "cheers" with "cheers".

    This response is still phatic in purpose, but the tone and context can't be misread.

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    Effectively, you're thanking the thanker for their thanks. Everybody wins!

    And there's no need to get stuck in a thank you loop; once each will do.

    H/T This post on Tumblr, and users allthingslinguistic, hinallie, and thisisnotharmless.

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