How to express gratitude in French

How to express gratitude in French

French is intrinsically quite a formal language, with lots of phrases and expressions for politeness and social etiquette.  One area replete with such expressions is for expressing gratitude.

There are dozens of combinations for expressing gratitude in French, many of which revolve around "merci" and "remercier".

The funny thing is, giving thanks is often something that's a bit awkward for French native speakers.  Many of them are not very good at it.  The easiest way for them to do so is typically using formal French expressions.

So, when it comes to thanking someone, spoken colloquial French often gives way to more formal French - the kind that's find in books and formal speeches.

Of course, there are a few informal ways to express gratitude, but these are generally a bit rough around the edges and sowewhat awkward - we'll see an example shortly.

In the following dialogue, Albert and Nathalie have just returned home after a vacation at Cécile and Martin's house.  Albert calls Cécile on the phone to let her know the return trip went well, and to thank her and Martin for the great holiday.

Here's the dialogue in French :

Allo ? Salut Cécile ! C'est Albert.

Ah Albert, comment ça va ? Vous êtes bien rentrés ?

Oui, impeccable merci, le voyage s'est bien passé.

Ah tant mieux.

Je voulais te dire que Nathalie et moi avons passé un séjour fantastique chez vous.

Je suis bien contente ! C'est toujours un grand plaisir de vous avoir.

Merci mille fois pour tout le mal que vous vous êtes donné ! On vous en est très reconnaissants !

Oh tu exagères, on n'a pas fait grand chose ...

Oh si, grâce à vous, on a visité toute la région, on a fait plein d'activités et rencontré des gens très sympas ...

Vraiment, je ne sais pas comment vous remercier !

C'est nous qui vous remercions d'être venus nous voir !

Nathalie voulait aussi vous exprimer sa gratitude pour le magnifique tapis que vous lui avez offert !

Je suis très heureuse qu'il lui plaise ! je pense qu'il ira bien dans votre apart.

Oui c'est le cas, il est parfait pour le salon ! On vous remercie de tout coeur !

Et puis aussi, c'était vraiment gentil de votre part de nous accompagner à l'aéroport si tôt le matin !

Oh ce n'est rien, on se lève tôt le matin de toutes façons ...

Oui mais quand même ! C'était un détour.  Un grand merci à tous les deux !

Ne t'inquiète pas pour ça.  C'est toujours une joie de vous accompagner.

Ben merci en tout cas !  J'espère que vous viendrez nous voir bientôt !

Surtout, transmets bien tous nos remerciements à Martin.

Bien sûr, je n'y manquerai pas ! merci pour ton appel ! A très bientôt.

This is the full audio for the French dialogue :

Here's the English version :

Hello ? Hi Cécile ! It's Albert.

Oh hi Albert, how are you ? Did you get back OK ?

Yes, everything great thanks ! The return trip went fine.

Oh good !

Nathalie and I had a fantastic stay at your place.

Oh I'm really glad ! It's always a great pleasure to have you !

Thanks a million for all the pain you went through for us ! We're really grateful !

Oh come on, it's not such a big deal ...

Yes it it ! Thanks to you guys, we've visited the whole region, done plenty of activities, met some great people ...

I really don't know how to thank you !

Well we're the ones who are grateful to you guys for coming to see us !

Nathalie also wanted to say thank you for the magnificent rug !

I'm really happy she likes it ! I think it'll fit well in your apartment.

Yes it does ! Thank you so much !

Also, it was so nice of you to take us to the airport so early in the morning ...

Oh that's nothing, we wake up early in the morning anyway ...

But still ! It's out of your way.  A huge thanks to both of you !

Don't worry about it, it's was a great pleasure to drive you guys.

I hope you'll come visit us soon ! Please pass on our thanks to Martin.

Of course, I certainly will ! Thanks for calling ! Talk to you soon.

Let's take a look at the phrases Nathalie uses to express her gratitude to Cécile.  But first, some context.

Expressing gratitude in French : context

As Cécile picks up the phone, she probably says "Allo ?"   Albert responds saying :

"Allo ? Salut Cécile ! C'est Albert."

A quick one-liner to say "hi, Cécile, it's me Albert." Cécile replies with a "how are you ?" :

"Ah Albert, comment ça va ?"

Then she inquires about the return trip :

"Vous êtes bien rentrés ?"

It's a very common question to ask when someone who was with you has left to go back home.  It directly translates to "did you get back OK ?"

Nathalie answers  "oui, impeccable merci".  "Impeccable" literally means "impeccable" in English, as in spotless.  But it is often used in colloquial, spoken French to mean something is all good, no trouble at all, nothing to complain about :

" Comment s'est passé ton voyage ?"  "Impeccable !"

She says "le voyage s'est bien passé" (the trip went well), which  further clarifies the word "impeccable" : all good.

Cécile's answer "Ah tant mieux" is another very common spoken French expression for saying "good !", "good thing".  Note that in other contexts, "tant mieux" can also mean "so much the better" or "all the better for that".

"J'ai bien réussi mon examen !" (I did well on my exam)

"Tant mieux !"

Expressing gratitude in French : je voulais vous dire que ...

Albert says :

"Je voulais te dire que Nathalie et moi avons passé un séjour fantastique chez vous."

He starts with "je voulais te dire", i.e. I wanted to let you know, I wanted to tell you.  This is a common way of introducing a new topic, typically something personal.  In spoken we often use this phrase to introduce an expression of gratitude :

"Je voulais vous dire que j'ai beaucoup aimé la soirée" (I wanted to tell you I really liked the evening)

"Je voulais te dire que tu as été formidable avec nous !"  (I wanted to tell you you were really nice to us)

Albert says "... que nous avons passé un séjour fantastique chez vous".  Like in English, a common way of thanking someone is by telling them how great a time we had with them.

Let's look at how Cécile responds to the indirect thank you phrase :

"Je suis bien contente !"

This is similar to other languages, saying "I'm glad" when someone says they are happy about something they had thanks to you.

She adds :

"C'est toujours un grand plaisir de vous avoir."  (always a great pleasure to have you)

This phrase sounds a bit formal, and depending on context, it can be.  Whether the person actually means it or not depends on the kinds of relationship they have with you.

For example, you've invited your boss and spouse to dinner.  The evening was quite cordial but somewhat formal.  As they leave, the guest thank you for having them :

"Merci beaucoup pour cette agréable soirée".  (thank you for this pleasant evening)

You answer :

"C'est toujours un plaisir de vous voir / avoir"  (it's always a pleasure to see / have you)

In this case, you don't necessarily mean it, as having your boss over may be a chore for you.

In our French conversation, however, Cécile and Martin were truly happy to have their friends over, and so Cécile uses that phrase with sincerity.

Expressing gratitude in French : merci mille fois

Albert then says :

"Merci mille fois pour tout le mal que vous vous êtes donné !"

"Merci mille fois" (thanks a thousand times) is a typical way to says "thank you so much".  For example :

"je vous ai préparé la chambre d'amis" (I have the guest room ready for you)

"Merci mille fois !"

Note how she adds "pour" after "merci mille fois" to specify the exact reason for your thanking the person :

" ... pour tout le mal que vous vous êtes donné !"

You might say for example :

"Merci mille fois pour ce cadeau" (thanks a thousand for this gift)

"Merci mille fois pour les conseils" (for the advice)

"Merci mille fois pour votre aide" (for your help)

Another, alternative way to say it is "Mille mercis pour votre aide".

In our dialogue, he says "pour le mal que vous vous êtes donné".  "Se donner du mal" means going through great pains, great efforts, for something or someone.  "le mal" in this case means pain, effort.

So "le mal que vous vous êtes donné" means the pain you went through.

"Vous vous êtes donné beaucoup de mal pour que je sois bien !"  : you went through great pains for me to feel comfortable

"Tu t'es donné du mal pour me faire ce repas"  : you went through great efforts to cook me this meal

Expressing gratitude in French : je vous suis très reconnaissant

Albert says "On vous en est très reconnaissants".  The expression "être reconnaissant de/pour quelque chose" is not specifically a colloquial one, it's a standard French way of expressing gratitude :

"je vous suis très reconnaissant pour votre aide!  (I'm very grateful for your help - talking to single person or several people)

"il l'a beaucoup aidée, elle lui en est très reconnaissante" (he helped her a lot, she's very grateful to him for it)

"nous t'en sommes vraiment reconnaissants"  (we're very grateful to you - you is a single person - for it)

Notice "reconnaissant" becomes "reconnaissante" when the grateful person is a woman (and "reconnaissants" if more than one person).

Also, "je vous suis reconnaissant pour [object]" becomes "je vous en suis reconnaissant" when the object for gratitude was mentioned previously.

In our conversation, Albert actually says "on vous en est très reconnaissants".  Here, "on" is a colloquial way of saying "nous".

Cécile answers "Oh tu exagères, on n'a pas fait grand chose ...".

It's a way of minimizing the favors she did her guest.  "Tu exagères" is a very commonly used French phrase that means "you are exaggerating", "don't overdo it" or "don't overstate it" :

"Tu es magnifique !"  -> "Oh tu exagères..."  (you're beautiful  ! ->  oh don't exaggerate)

"Ce type mesure 2m 20 au moins !"  -> "oh non, là tu exagères"  (this guy is at least 2.2m high ! -> oh come on, you're overstating it)

The phrase "on n'a pas fait grand chose" translates to "we didn't do much" - the French would never say "on n'a pas fait beaucoup".  "Grand chose" is used in numerous situations :

"Ce n'est pas grand chose" (it's not a big thing / no big deal)

"Ça ne vaut pas grand chose" (it's not worth much)

"Il n'y a pas grand chose" (there isnt't much)

Expressing gratitude in French : grâce à vous

Albert replies "oh si, grâce à vous on a ..."  He starts his sentence with "oh si", contradicting Cécile who just said it was not much that she did.  "Si" is a "oui" that contradicts a "no".

He then adds "grâce à vous ..." , meaning "thanks to you", and goes on to list all the things he and Nathalie were able to do thanks to Cécile and Martin.  Some other examples :

"Grâce à mon patron, j'adore mon job" (thanks to my boss, I love my job)

"Grâce à toi, je suis arrivé à l'heure" (thanks to you, I got there on time)

"Grâce à internet, je reste en contact avec mes amis" (thanks to the internet, I stay in touch with my friends)

Expressing gratitude in French : je ne sais pas comment vous remercier

Another way to strongly thank someone is to say "je ne sais pas comment te/vous remercier" (I don't know how to thank you), which is similar to English.

You typically use this phrase when someone does a big favor to you, and you want to show you owe them.  You can also use this phrase to express a big relief.

"Voilà, votre télé est réparée !"  (here, your TV is fixed)

"ah je ne sais pas comment vous remercier !"  (i.e. you don't know grateful I am)

"J'ai réussi à régler le problème"  (I managed to solve the problem)

"Je ne sais pas comment vous remercier !"

Cécile replies saying "c'est nous qui vous remercions d'être venus nous voir !".   In French as in English, a common, polite way to respond to thank you is to thank the person back.

"C'est nous qui vous remercions" literally means "we're the ones who thank you" (for coming to visit us)

"C'est moi qui te remercie"  (I'm the one who thanks you)

"C'est elle qui nous remercie"  (she's the one who thanks us)

Expressing gratitude in French : je voulais vous exprimer ma gratitude

Albert says "Nathalie voulait aussi vous exprimer sa gratitude pour ..."   This is a more formal way to thank a person, literally saying "she wanted to express her gratitude for ..."

You can use this expression for formal occasions such as after an event you were invited to or a favor someone did to you :

"Je voulais vous exprimer ma gratitude pour nous avoir aidés en ces moments difficiles"  (... for helping us through these difficult moments)

In our spoken French conversation, Albert introduces a bit of formality, probably because he's running out of spontaneous thank you phrases to say - he's been enumerating the favors Cécile did for him, and it's getting a bit tedious.

Albert may also be feeling a little uncomfortable about his guests giving them a nice gift, on top of all the efforts they already made so him and Nathalie would have a good time.  The formal nature of the phrase he uses probably reflects his awkwardness as is often the case with French people.

Cécile's answer is yet another typical way to reply to a thank you statement : "je suis très heureuse qu'il lui plaise".  This is somewhat contrary to the "ce n'est pas grand chose" approach (dismissing the favor as being nothing).

It may indicate that Cécile actually put much thought and effort in choosing the gift - she even adds "je pense qu'il ira bien dans votre salon".

On the other hand, the phrase "je suis heureux/se que cela (vous/te/lui) plaise" can also be used as a formal "you're welcome".   For example, you're invited to a business lunch, and as you arrive you hand a nice bouquet of flowers to the house lady :

"Merci pour ces magnifiques fleurs !" she says (thank you for those beautiful flowers)

"Je suis heureuse qu'elles vous plaisent."  (I'm glad you like them)

Expressing gratitude in French : je vous remercie

A simpler phrase than "Je ne sais pas comment vous remercier !" is "je vous remercie", less dramatic yet rather more formal than just "merci".

While "merci" is used all day very casually (like a normal "thank you" or "thanks"), "je te/vous remercie" is perceived as more elegant and respectful, often used with people to whom you want to show respect :

"Je vous remercie madame" (thank you madam)

"Je te remercie pour ton amabilité" (thank you for your kindness)

"Je vous remercie d'avoir réglé ce problème" (thank you for solving this problem)

To make your "thank you" more emphatic, you can append "de tout coeur" (with all my heart) :

"On vous remercie de tout coeur !" (we thank you from the bottom of our heart)

In the emphasis scale, this is typically somewhat equivalent to "je ne sais pas comment  vous remercier".

You might alternatively say "merci de tout coeur !" (thanks from the bottom of my/our hearts)

Another variation of "merci" and "je vous remercie" is "un grand merci !" (a big thanks) :

"un grand merci à tous les deux !"

Expressing gratitude in French : c'est gentil de

Another way French speakers commonly express gratitude is by saying "c'est gentil de + verb" (it's nice of you to ...) :

"C'est gentil de nous accompagner !" (it's nice of you to take us).

Some other examples :

"C'est gentil de m'apporter le courrier." (it's nice of you to bring me the mail)

"C'est gentil de venir me voir !" (it's nice of you to come and see me)

In our dialogue, Albert says "c'était vraiment gentil de votre part de nous accompagner"

Here, "de votre part" (literally "from your part") serves to indicate that the "thank you" is addressed to both Cécile and Martin.  It's like saying "it was really nice of both of you to take us".

In some cases, however, "de votre part" is a bit redundant - it's used even though it could be omitted, a bit of fluff that helps the French speaker cope with the awkwardness of expressing gratitude :

"C'est gentil de ta part de payer pour tout le monde !" (it's nice of you to pay for everyone).

Equivalent to : "c'est gentil de payer pour tout le monde !"

Cécile answers "oh ce n'est rien" (it's nothing), which is equivalent in meaning to "ce n'est pas grand chose" (it's not much).

She supports that statement by saying she and Martin get up early every day anyway.

Cécile also uses another way of responding to a thank you is "ne t'inquiète pas pour ça", which is very similar to the English "don't worry about it".

Expressing gratitude in French : ben merci en tout cas ...

This expression is used a lot nowadays in colloquial, spoken French.  It once again denotes some awkwardnessor even embarrassement on the part of the French speaker in having to thank someone (and perhaps in owing them).

"Ben merci en tout cas ..." might translate to "well thanks in any case".

The "well" and "in any case" are just filler, reflecting some uneasiness on the part of the thanking person :

"C'est moi qui vous invite ce soir !" (it's on me tonight)

"Ben ... merci en tout cas ..."

French speakers today tend to use "en tout cas" (literally anyway) quite a bit as filler in situations in which they feel a bit ill-a-ease or uncomfortable, particularly when some kind of "thank you" is in order. For example, when leaving a party, guests often will say :

"C'était très sympa en tout cas ..."  (it was very nice anyway - expressing some level of awkwardness when it's time to say thanks and good bye)

"En tout cas" actually means "in any case", "anyway", or "nevertheless".  So it would normally be used when the favor done to you failed to reap the expected benefits, but you still want to thank the person.

French-speakers, however, particularly people from low-to-medium social background, have gotten into the habit of saying it even when the favor done to them is successful.

Expressing gratitude in French : transmets mes remerciements

At the end of the French conversation, Albert says :

"Transmets bien tous nos remerciement à Martin"

This is again a quite formal way of saying thank you through a third party.  It's similar in structure to something like :

"transmets mes amitiés à ta mère"  (send my regards to your mother)

... reflecting a certain degree of formality.  Such an expression somewhat departs from a sincere, friendly "thank you" and reaches into the realm of formal courtesy.

Here again, my interpretation is that French natives often feel quite uncomfortable with expressing gratitude, and typically find shelter in an ill-suited degree of formality, even when talking to close friends.

Cécile's response is on the same formal level :

"je n'y manquerai pas" - literally "I shall not fail to do so", quite a formal reply as well.

That's a typical answer to a "transmets mes remerciements" kind of statement.  At his point, both Albert and Cécile have slipped into the formal dimension.

Before ending the conversation however, Cécile gets back into a more casual tone saying "merci pour ton appel, à très bientôt".

Good thing she did,  otherwise both speakers could have left the talk with an unpleasant taste of excessive formality, diminished sincerity, and perhaps even less friendship.

Ready for our little quiz ? Test yourself !

OK now let's see how well you've digested the abundant material in this article.

Look at the following questions and select the best answer.  Just write your answers in the comments section below.

As always, the correct answers will be published here once enough readers have added theirs.

If you want to get the correct answers sooner (and you're not a registered user) just write down your email address with your answers in the comments - I will delete your email right after I send you the answers so it doesn't stick around.

1) While on the road, you pulled over because of a flat tyre.  A nice guy helps you change the tyre.  How do you best express your gratitude in this case ?

A. Merci quand même

B. Mille mercis pour votre aide

C. Je voulais vous exprimer ma gratitude

2) You invite your friend to your wedding.  The next day, you call her on the phone to thank her for her very nice gift. 

A.  C'est sympa de m'avoir offert ce cadeau

B. Je te transmets mes remerciements pour ton cadeau

C. Je te remercie beaucoup pour ton cadeau

3) As you're crossing the street a reckless driver is just about to run you over.  Someone  pulls you out the car's way, thus saving your life.

A. Merci encore

B. Je voulais vous dire que vous m'avez sauvé la vie

C. Ben merci en tout cas...


Related video lessons

To watch a funny situation involving someone asking for something (even many) and showing gratitude, watch the video lesson :

video lesson in spoken french - an annoying classmate Un élève culotté

 

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One comment on “How to express gratitude in French
  1. Susana Santos says:

    B,C,A

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