Showing & Accepting Thanks: Words You Will Be Thankful You Know on the TOEFL and Beyond

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Showing & Accepting Thanks: Words You'll Be Thankful You Know on the TOEFL

Words for being polite are always one of the first lessons taught in a foreign language class.  However, there are tons of additional ways to say thank you in English that you wouldn’t be taught on the first day of class.  Sound more like a native speaker by utilizing these other ways of saying thanks.  Your TOEFL score will thank you, too.  

On the TOEFL, understanding when people have offered or accepted thanks will help you better understand conversations on the listening section and make you well-prepared for the function questions (the ones that feature a short section of the recording and ask what the speaker’s purpose is).  Remember, the conversations featured are designed to mimic common university conversations, so if you can understand the function of these phrases on test day, you will be able to utilize them when you yourself are going to ask your professor a question or a favor.


How to select the right phrase of appreciation

Why are there so many different ways to show appreciation in English?  The way you have chosen to say thank you needs to be appropriate contextually.  You should select the right way of saying thanks (or accepting thanks) based on the method of delivery (written or verbal) and the magnitude of the gift, favor, or gesture.

Typically showing thanks in writing is considered more formal.  You also should consider the relationship between the person giving and expressing thanks.  Often phrases that are more casual are also more appropriate for peers, friends, and family whereas phrases for interacting with your instructor or boss tend to be more formal.

General phrases for expressing thanks

In regular everyday interactions, these phrases are acceptable for most situations.  Thanks is appropriate even for minor situations like holding a door or passing someone the items they’ve purchased.


Thank you

Thank you very much!

Thank you so much!


Casual phrases for saying thanks

For everyday interactions with those you are close with, consider something more casual and with more personality.  If a friend surprised you by bringing you a cup of coffee or they reminded you that you have homework due so yours won’t be late, these phrases will come in handy.

I owe you/I owe you one- In other words, you have done a favor for me, and I will repay the favor soon.

You are a lifesaver! - You have improved this situation or helped me avoid a problem

You are the best! - In other words, you compliment the other person for having done something wonderful for you

You really bailed me out-In other words, you have saved me from getting into trouble

Thanks for having my back- Thanks for showing me support

Thanks for giving me a hand- Thanks for helping me do something (You can also add with in order to specify what this person helped you with)

On the TOEFL these phrases would most likely come up in a conversation between two students. If one student has helped the other study for a midterm, for example, they might be a lifesaver.  If one helped the other find a building on campus, they might owe the other person for having taken the time to provide assistance.

Casual replies (how to say you’re welcome)

If someone uses one of the above phrases with you, reply with one of these casual ways to say you’re welcome.  These are great for conversational, informal situations.  Remember, your response should be chosen from the context and from the level of gratitude the person has already expressed.  If you hear someone use these phrases on the TOEFL, that means that they have agreed to a request made by the original speaker and thanked them.  

Many of these phrases stem from the idea that you are dismissing the thanks as unnecessary because the task was so expected or minor.  This does not come off as rude, but suggests that you are being overly kind or generous by having said thank you in the first place.  This does not mean that you were wrong to say thank you, though!

No problem

No worries

No big deal

Don’t mention it

Sure thing


Not at all

It’s no trouble

Of course

Happy to help

Happy to be of service

It’s nothing

Think nothing of it


It’s the least I could do

It’s my pleasure

My pleasure

The pleasure is all mine

For TOEFL function questions especially, be careful not to take these phrases too literally.  If you look at some of them word for word, you may guess that the person is indicating not to talk or agree to something, but that is not the case when these phrases are used in reply to thanks.

More formal ways to say thanks

For professional interactions, like those in the workplace or between a student and professor, you should upgrade the degree or formality used.  Many of these phrases can be used in both written and spoken interactions.  While they all use thank you as a basis, they are made more advanced by being more specific to a particular situation.

Thank you for your consideration- Use this during the application process for an internship or job

Thank you for your time- While this can also be used upon leaving a job interview, this can also be used to thank a boss or a professor for spending their time listening to your question or proposal

Thank you for coming here today/Thank you for coming in/Thank you for being here- When an employer or professor has asked someone for a meeting, this phrase is often used to open discussion

Thank you for your support- Used to thank someone for helping, sometimes financially or in terms of time dedicated to a specific cause 

Thank you for bringing this to my attention-Used to thank someone for providing information

Thank you for having me-Thanks for inviting me over

Thank you for your understanding- Used to thank someone for his/her flexibility

Thank you in advance- After making a request, you may want to use this phrase.  It may seem a little forward, though, because you are making the assumption that your request will be granted

Other formal ways to say thanks

While not on either extreme end of the formality spectrum, these phrases indicate deep appreciation

I am so grateful for ______

I thank you from the bottom of my heart

This means so much to me

I couldn’t have done it without you


These phrases all share a common trait: they indicate that you are so overwhelmed with appreciation that you are at a loss for words

I cannot thank you enough- You can also use the contraction can’t, alternatively

I cannot put into words how grateful we are

I don’t know what to say

How can I ever thank you

For very formal situations, try these phrases

Allow me to express my sincere gratitude

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks

I would like to thank you for ______

Please accept my sincerest gratitude

When to thank people

In the United States, it is considered good etiquette to thank those who have given a gift, time, or financial assistance to a person or cause.  Writing a thank you note would be appropriate for any of those situations.  Best practices for a thank you note are that it is handwritten, typically in script, that it is specific, and that it is sincere.  If you are writing to thank someone for a wedding gift, for example, it is expected that you include specific mention of what the gift was and/or how you look forward to using it.  

If you ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation, I would strongly recommend that you write a short note expressing your thanks.  Thank them both for their engaging method of teaching in the classroom and for taking the time to write you a recommendation.

When submitting your resume/CV, be sure to thank the person receiving the application. In this situation, just a sentence is fine. Upon returning from a job interview,  be sure to write a full thank you note to those who conducted the interview.  Check out this great tutorial regarding when and what to say for that type of thank you note in this post by English With a Twist.

It isn’t just a cultural expectation.  More and more research like that cited here by Forbes indicates that regularly showing your appreciation to others helps in social situations in the workplace and with friend groups.


Don’t forget to thank yourself

Studies show that expressing gratitude to others has real, lasting, and positive effects.  Although giving thanks is a regular part of everyday interaction in the United States, often we overlook ourselves in terms of showing appreciation.  Gratitude journals have become all the rage.  Why not take advantage of this extra opportunity to practice English, especially considering that cultivating a grateful mindset has been linked to better sleep, self-esteem, and physical health.

Key Takeaways

Showing gratitude has been linked to building better relationships and living a healthier lifestyle.

In American culture, it is expected to thank others for everything from minor interactions, like passing a piece of paper to a colleague, to getting a gift, so having an arsenal of phrases for expressing thanks at your disposal will help select the best fit for any occasion.  Being able to draw upon the right ones in your everyday life means you will be fully prepared for any method of saying thanks that appears in the TOEFL function questions.

As my way of showing my gratitude to my blog readers, get 30 independent essay prompts to help get you TOEFL-ready!

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