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[edit] After reading first answers I realized that the way I expressed the question was actually confusing. So here is another formulation, hopefully more clear.

This question came to my mind just after posting a comment in Stack Overflow, where I wanted to thank the OP because he'd kept me informed.

As a French native speaker, I use to have in French a clear, unambiguous way to distinctly express thanks, depending on they are for something I'm asking for, or something that I just got. In other words, before or after obtaining it.

Though in English it appears that it may be much ambiguous, so in the example above I was afraid to write something that could be read as "please keep me informed" instead.
Especially, Google translator as well as already posted answers seem to confirm that something like Thanks for ...ing me (whatever action is "...") could apply to both "before" and "after" situations.

Hence my main question: is that true? And if so, how am I supposed to disambiguate when I use such formulation? Depending on context?

It's clear that I can always use some imperative formulation when I ask, such as "Please ...", so I'm sure not to ambiguous at all. At the opposite, for the "after" case it seems more delicate, especially if I want to avoid complicate periphrasis.

Hence the additional question: is there a common simple way to express the "after" case?


Here is the original question.

As a French native speaker, this question came to my mind just after posting a comment in Stack Overflow, where I wanted to thank the OP because he'd kept me informed, but I was afraid to write something ambiguous that he could read as "please keep me informed". In French, we can clearly express the difference using different tenses with the same words (including conjunctions):

  1. Merci de m'informer: literally "Thanks to inform me"; it's to thank in advance, regarding something I asked for.
  2. Merci de m'avoir informé: literally "Thanks to have informed me"; it's to thank for something that have be done for me (or given to me).

But from my (currently little) experience it seems that the preferred way in English may often be quite different, and frequently ambiguous (at least at my eyes).

E.g. when asking Google translator I get "Thanks for informing me" for both #1 and #2 above!
The same applies with Merci de me tenir informé and Merci de m'avoir tenu informé, that both return Thanks for keeping me informed.

In the other hand, if I try with "answer" instead of "inform", I get not ambiguous translations: Thanks for answering me and Thanks for your reply.
In fact I guess that these contradictory examples only give evidence that Google translator is poorly supplied, and lacks reliability...

So is there a general rule (or a set of rules) that clearly indicate which choice is the good one in these situations?
Or in other words, something as simple and not ambiguous as the French way, merely using present infinitive when asking and past infinitive when it's done.

  • Could you clarify your question? I can't tell what kind of rule you mean. As for the Google translator information, while interesting, I think it confuses the matter since its accuracy varies. – user3169 Feb 7 '16 at 0:02
  • @user3169 For the clarification, look at my edit (last sentence), hopefully helping. In the other hand, look at my comment under your answer. – cFreed Feb 7 '16 at 0:43
  • I think language comparison has a lot of issues. I would ask what is correct in English, not why English and French (or any two languages) don't do things the same way. – user3169 Feb 7 '16 at 0:47
  • @user3169 Hmm... I think I was not clear enough, sorry. The main incertainty I have is like I said in my other comment: how can we be sure not to be ambiguous (since some expressions seem to have both senses)? – cFreed Feb 7 '16 at 0:54
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In addition to using Mark Hubbard’s “Thank you in advance for [keeping me informed]” (or just “Thanks in advance for [ … ]” in less formal situations) to express your thanks in advance without having to rely on context, you could also consider using a near-synonym for being thankful to use with the conditional would, for example:

I would (I’d)[ greatly/very much] appreciate your keeping me informed.”

or (to emphasize the conditional notion even further):

I’d be [extremely/very] grateful if you would (you’d)/could keep me informed.”

(Please note that, although it’s probably overstating the actual level of appreciation/gratitude, I think I would include greatly and extremely, especially in the above, “in advance” cases, but probably less so in the “after the fact” cases mentioned below. However, be careful not to “over-do” it because you could come across as being sarcastic or “sycophantic” [the English sense!], so on second thought, maybe the more restrained very/very much would be better in these cases where intensifying the gratitude might be in order because you are actually requesting a future favor at the same time.)

Regarding “after the fact” expressions of thankfulness (such as the one you made on “Overflow” and are asking about here), in addition to Mark’s use of the past tense (provided) or relying solely on context (which I agree can be ambiguous, especially in your example where it could easily be interpreted as an on-going request), you could consider changing “keeping” to “having kept” and “keep” to “kept” to use either with the same near-synonyms above (but in the unconditional present) or else (preferably, I think) simply with the original “Thank you/Thanks” construction, for example:

“I [do] [greatly/very much] appreciate your having kept me informed.”
(where the do would be an optional way to emphasize the appreciation)

“I am (I’m) [extremely/very] grateful that you kept me informed.”

Thank you (Thanks) for having kept me informed.

(But please see this relevant Word Reference thread that seems to confirm that we are, in fact, often (but not always?) at the mercy of sometimes ambiguous context in English (as indicated in user3169's answer). At least “Kelly B” begins his/her answer with “Yes, that's right,” so making the effort in our own speech to avoid the ambiguity would be not only admirable, but also grammatically and logically correct, although we'd still have to rely on context to interpret the meaning when spoken to us by somebody who is less concerned with clarity.)

  • 1
    This is a totally unexpected answer, which perfectly fullfills what remained a lack, at my eyes, towards the very core of my question. First it explicitely confirms the "cultural" difference that makes English people not so concerned to avoid ambiguity, hence the common usage of the same form for the two cases. However also it gives me the way to satisfy my own concern about that, with the confirmation that the "Thanks for having..." is correct too. Ironically, it was the way I used for times, till I began to doubt it was correct, so I posted my question! Thanks a lot. – cFreed May 10 '16 at 19:09
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Unfortunately, there are no equivalents in English using infinitives. But there are common, simple ways to differentiate "thanks" before and after the fact.

Before,

1.) "Thank you in advance for your help."

Don't be afraid to use "thank you in advance," as it is very common in English writing to do so, especially in email and on the Internet.

After,

2.) "Thank you for the information you provided."

Adding "you provided" puts the matter clearly in the past.

  • Your answer is already of some help, so I upvoted it. But I keep widely uncertain about several aspects, so you might look at my edited question. And please don't apologize of nothing! :) – cFreed Feb 7 '16 at 13:57
  • Thank you. I've edited my answer. And I've removed my apology. :-) Please ask again if these comments still leave you uncertain. – Mark Hubbard Feb 7 '16 at 16:51
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In the case of 1 (it's to thank in advance, regarding something I asked for) I would use:

Thanks for keeping me informed. (Present information and into the future)
I look forward (am looking forward) to your information. (Future information)

In the case of 2 (it's to thank for something that have be done for me (or given to me) I would use:

Thank you for informing me.

  • I keep quite embarrassed. Since your examples, it seems still ambiguous, since anything such as "Thanks for ...ing" can be used in the two cases, like Google suggested. So how the reader can perceive the difference? – cFreed Feb 7 '16 at 0:49
  • Your answer is already of some help, so I upvoted it. But I keep widely uncertain about several aspects, so you might look at my edited question. – cFreed Feb 7 '16 at 13:56

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