Thanks a lot.

Is "Thanks" a verb or a noun? If it is a noun, how can "a lot" behind it modify "thanks"? If it is a verb, why is there an "s" at the end of the word?

  • Compare to "Greetings and salutations!" – SF. Nov 25 '13 at 12:36
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    I'd note that thanks a lot is commonly used sarcastically to mean "no thanks at all" when someone has been distinctly less than helpful. – Jack Aidley Nov 25 '13 at 13:13

It's a performative exclamation. By uttering the word, you're not just describing the action of thanking, you're actually performing the action of thanking. There are a number of words and phrases like this; for example, you can welcome someone simply by saying the word "Welcome!"

So why the peculiar grammar? Well, take a look at its history:

  1. I thank you.
  2. Thank you.
  3. Thanks.

The first sentence is a complete clause. And as it became a single lexical item, it got shortened to the second form. But the third form doesn't look like "thank you" at all, does it?

In fact, the third form was reanalyzed as a shortened form of "thank you". It appears to instead be an exclamation derived from the plural noun "thanks", most likely short for a sentence like "Thanks be to you". But in this case it's not used as though it's a short version of that phrase, and it's not used like a noun either. Instead, it's used exactly like "thank you" grammatically:

  1. I thank you a lot.
  2. Thank you a lot.
  3. Thanks a lot.

So "thanks", by appearances a noun, is standing in for the exclamation "thank you", which is historically a short form of the complete clause "I thank you".

  • Interesting!! I'd never heard performative exclamation before. Interestingly, your last 3 examples don't all read the same to me. Thank you a lot sounds odd but is perfectly understandable (I think it probably just sounds odd because Thanks a lot is so common). But to my ear, I thank you a lot means On many occasions I have cause to thank you (and I do so). (It also just occurred to me that if the phrase had been "[x] very much" instead of "[x] a lot", version 2 would sound more natural to me, and 3 would sound odd! Interesting how we pair words sometimes. – WendiKidd Nov 29 '13 at 0:46

Agreed @Snailboat but I'm typing what found something interesting here on my 'Pro' version of WW.

The word thanks is a noun and interjection both. 'Thank' is verb. But when you say thanks a lot it shows as an interjection on WordWeb. It's interesting.

The meaning of the word 'thanks (n, inter) and 'thank (v)'.

The meaning of the phrase 'thanks a lot (inter)', which means emphasized thank you or an ironic thank you.

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