Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Thank You Much

Posted by Neal on October 18, 2011

Jessica Hagy’s webcomic Indexed makes frequent use of Venn diagrams. This one from July has the sets Nouns and Verbs intersecting in a set labeled Heinous Business Speak. So, according to this diagram, every noun that can be used as a verb or verb that can be used as a noun is an example of heinous business speak. This would mean that (as one commenter hinted) speak is heinous business speak, as are run, walk, and swim. Moreover, this diagram states that every example of heinous business speak is something that is both a noun and a verb. This would mean that going forward, at the end of the day, think outside the box, and pick the low-hanging fruit are not heinous business speak. They may be heinous, or they may be business speak, but not both.

I know, I know, it’s just a frickin’ joke; why don’t I have a sense of humor? Part of the humor of using technical language, concepts, or methods for silly things is doing it accurately. When Tom Lehrer put the names of all the known elements to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” it was funny because he didn’t make up stupid element names; he used real ones, and all of them that existed as of 1959. When the Roman guard corrects Brian’s Latin grammar, it’s funny not only because we don’t expect that as a reaction to an act of graffiti, but also because Romanes eunt domus really should be Romani, ite domum (at least in Classical Latin). As the saying goes, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Furthermore, Jessica Hagy is contributing to a sloppy understanding of various math concepts by people who laugh at her comics but aren’t entirely clear on how Venn diagrams work. xkcd pulls this kind of thing off better.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. In the peeve-fest that followed in the comments, one commenter wrote:

What gets me is that now people are using the phrase “Thank You much” instead of “Thank You very much” or just “Thank You.” It just sounds so wrong and annoys me every time I hear it.

Another commenter responded:

It just sounds lazy – they’re obviously so appreciative that they can’t put the effort into a complete sentence.

The idea that Thank you much is bad grammar or not a complete sentence can be found elsewhere on the web:

its makes them sound stupid because its not a sentence they forgot the very part. (link)

The sentiment isn’t limited to people with poor punctuation skills, either. From a thread on EnglishForums.com:

“Thank you much.” is not correct English.

You can say “thank you very much” or even “thank you so much”.

I responded to the Indexed commenter:

“Thank you much” IS a complete sentence, at least if you accept “Thank you” as a complete (albeit noncanonical) sentence in the first place. If you object to “much” instead of “very much”, note that it appears alone in questions and negative sentences, e.g. “he doesn’t talk much”, “Does he talk much?” If you’re objecting to the use of plain “much” outside these “negative polarity contexts”, that’s a different matter, because that does sound odd in present-day English.

Suppose the commenter really was objecting to this use of unadorned much as a positive polarity item (PPI). In fact, there are times when PPI much sounds just fine without a very. It can modify comparative adjectives or adverbs: much better, more more quickly, etc. It also works if it has a too before it: I ate too much.

OK, so let’s suppose the commenter was more specifically objecting to use of PPI much without a too or very, and not as a modifier of a comparative adjective or adverb. Even looking at just this narrow set of circumstances for much, you can find other attestations in COCA:

  • North Korea’s ability to launch another conventional ground invasion is much degraded from even a decade ago.
  • There is much commotion and merrymaking these days in our community
  • Shooting a handgun is much like shooting a bow in this respect,

And of course, there’s this song from Janet Jackson, though you could argue that she chose the title in part to make her listeners pause for a moment.

So maybe the commenter is not trying to make any wider claim about the usage of much; it’s just that when it appears after thank you, for whatever reason, there has to be a too or a very. Well, what do you think? Is it actually ungrammatical, or just somewhat old-fashioned sounding to say Thank you much? If you believe it’s ungrammatical, let us know why in the comments.

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20 Responses to “Thank You Much”

  1. I think “Thank you much” is absolutely grammatically correct. It is the widespread acceptance of “Thank you very much” as being the ONLY correct variation that is bizarre. In either sense, “much” is an adverb meaning “to a great degree or extent”, modifying “(to) Thank you”. In the latter sense, “very” is also an adverb, meaning “exceedingly, or to a great degree”. In this sense, saying “Thank you very much” is somewhat redundant, but an accepted means of expressing that a person is incredibly grateful, beyond a typical degree. Most people don’t seem to make this distinction, however (ie. there is very little difference between “Thank you”, “Thank you much” and “Thank you very much”…the phrases are used interchangeably, and assumed to mean the same thing). “Thank you very much” seems to be more widely accepted as the polite/professional variation. In fact, saying “Thank you very much” seems to hold no indication that the speaker is any more grateful than one who just says “Thank you”. “Thank you much” has a more casual and abbreviated connotation, which I think leads some to the conclusion that it is ingenuine or somehow lazy or disrespectful.

    As I stated initially, “Thank you much” is absolutely “correct English”, despite the fact that it may not be commonly used/accepted as such.

  2. Ran said

    For me there are quite a few positive-polarity contexts where “much” only work if they’re modified by an adverb like “very” or “too” or “so” or “how”. Sometimes bare “much” just sounds unusually formal to me, sometimes old-fashioned, and sometimes just wrong. But I’m finding it hard to express a general rule for when that is the case when it is not, and whenever I think about any specific example for more than a few seconds, I lose my ability to tell what I think about it. :-P

  3. EP said

    Maybe these folks were actually German native speakers. Danke sehr is correct – and comes pretty close.

  4. Ellen K. said

    I think the issue is that it’s less idiomatic, and sounds wrong for that reason. And since we usually judge if something’s grammatical by if it sounds right, probably the person thought that, it sounds wrong, so it’s ungrammatical. Oblivious to the fact that there’s really an entirely different reason, in this case, that it sounds wrong.

    No, it’s not ungrammatical. But it’s not idiomatic, and sounds wrong for that reason.

  5. Glen said

    You know how if you say any word enough times, it will start to sound weird? I’ve just realized that ‘much’ reaches that point with very few repetitions.

  6. Jonathon said

    Corpus data to the rescue! It looks like “Thank you much” actually used to be more common than “Thank you very much” but is rarely found in print nowadays. Since it’s not common anymore, it sounds strange, and because it sounds strange, people peeve about it, which further reduces its use. It’s a self-reinforcing trend which is driving “Thank you much” out of the language.

  7. First of all, “thank you” and all of its variations are ‘interjection phrases’ — something that grammars tend to shy away from; CGEL basically just says that there is nothing interesting about their structure. I disagree, especially in the case of “thank you” because it has a structure and permits a fairly wide range of variations:

    thank you
    thanks
    thanks a million
    thanks a lot
    thank you very much
    thank you so much
    thank you so very much
    thank you from the bottom of my heart
    thank you immeasurably
    etc.

    And all of these can be followed by “for …”, and “from …”.

    The structure of these phrases is similar to other interjections that look like imperatives: “bless you”, “fuck you”, etc, but they are not imperatives because their objects are “you”, and imperatives (normally) have “you” as subject (if it was also the object, it would be “yourself”).

    Most of these phrases sound natural because they have become idiomatic, and “thank you much” may become idiomatic if it catches on and gets used enough.

    But right now it is weird. And it is weird for the reasons that have been discussed above: “much” doesn’t doesn’t appear in places like that. We don’t say “I’d like to hang out with you much” or “bless you much” or “screw you much”. “(I) miss you much” might be getting more and more popular, but that just means it is entering into idiomatic usage — not that it is grammatical. So “miss you much” and “thank you much” are no more grammatical than “long time no see”.

    • Neal said

      Well said. In short: grammatical, no; incomplete sentence, not applicable.

      Maybe you can answer a question I had while writing the post. I heard somewhere (probably a language lesson) that in Mandarin Chinese, you can’t say that something is merely “good”; you have to add some kind of qualifier, such as “very”. Is this true?

      • Not precisely true, but there is an aversion to using one-syllable answers in Chinese. Many (maybe most, or even almost all) one syllable nouns, verbs, and adjectives have two-syllable equivalents. This is likely the case to avoid ambiguity.

        Once a friend asked me how I was, and I said “hao” (good), only to be corrected — she said that you can’t just use one syllable, you have to use at least two. But this is the only time I’ve heard anyone offer a prescription like that. In practice, one-syllable answers and directives are quite common in spoken Chinese, but being a “high-context language”, the context is always clear in these cases (yes, no, ‘kay, c’mere, scram, quick, etc); if it weren’t, then more syllables would be called into service.

  8. Ran said

    Off-topic — a fun ambiguity:

    > Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Wednesday the governor had called on Lutz to commend the job he had done and to ask him to be part of the process of putting into law what the executive order failed to do.

    Not what “called on X to Y” usually means in news articles!

    (from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/big-game-hunt-lions-and-tigers-shot-to-death-in-ohio-after-owner-frees-them-kills-himself/2011/10/20/gIQA9UXbzL_story_1.html)

    • Neal said

      Yeah, you’re right: the ambiguity of “call on” plus the ambiguity of the infinitive as a purpose adverbial or a complement to “call on X” work together to create this ambiguity, whose intended meaning really isn’t the usual one in stories involving politicians. Nice find!

  9. Rachel Klippenstein said

    “thank you much” sounds odd to me, but more stylistically strange unusual than ungrammatical. What does sound really odd to me, to the point that I’d be inclined to call it ungrammatical, though I’m not completely certain:

    *”I much like that book.” (vs. “I very much like that book.”)
    *”I like that book much.” (vs. “I like that book very much.”)

  10. Lazlo said

    Andy Kaufman turned “denk you veddy much” into a career. Wouldn’t have been funny without the veddy.

    And where would Charlie Chan be without “thank you so much”?

  11. [...] in October, I wrote about the opinion that thank you much is ungrammatical. I quoted a comment I left on one website where [...]

  12. Jonathon said

    Just now I heard a “thank you much” and “thanks much” from an author who came into our office to talk to the designer about his book.

  13. Jordan said

    I thank you much for this discussion.

  14. Mike Ward said

    I think this is all much ado about nothing, or is that very much ado about nothing?

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