Not at all [meaning 'You're welcome']

< Previous | Next >

dreamlike

Senior Member
Polish
Hi everyone.

I was wondering, is 'not at all' in the sense of 'you're welcome' commonly used in all English-speaking countries? Does it have a very formal ring to it? I'm asking because some people in some other threads said that they have never heard of it, and I must say it doesn't appear to be very widespread to me, either. Where would you expect to hear it, if ever?


A) Thank you for taking such a good care of our children!
B) Not at all.

(yes, I know there are threads on this forum that treat of this meaning of 'not at all', but they belong to the Spanish section of the forum)
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello, dreamlike. The answer "Not at all" does sound stiff and old-fashioned to me. I rarely hear it here in the US.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You might hear it from me. The reason is that I go back to a time before AmE "You're welcome" took root in the UK. I don't see that the three words "not", "at" and "all" are intrinsically stiff.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Sound shift has a good point in that for us oldies (well, oldish) "you're welcome" sounds very American. Before "you're welcome" took over, we Brits often didn't feel the need to say anything at all in reply to "thank you". A smile was usually sufficient, or ", "that's all right, it was a pleasure". "Not at all" is a little formal perhaps.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thanks for all your answers. :) I can see how Brits may prefer it to 'You're welcome', but I gather that 'not at all' is virtually non-existent among younger generation (my age), and I would do well not to use it, right?
     

    Phil-Olly

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    There seems to be a tendency to adopt the same phrase and use it regardless of the situation. Especially, these days "no problem". I never had a problem with "no problem" so long as there was a suggestion that the request might lead to a problem. - "Would it be possible for me to have the goulash without any added salt?" - "No problem!" - whereas asking for a stamp in a post office ....!

    Recently I've heard "you're welcome" on quite a number of occasions in restaurants/cafes and found it quite refreshing (have they all been sent on a training course, I wonder?)

    Anyway, I would make a case for retaining "Not at all" if the situation warrants it: a sort of disclaimer. "You've been to a lot of bother on my behalf." "Not at all!"
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Did I know that "You're welcome" is an import from AmE?
    I'm not at all sure. It sounds entirely natural to me.
    I think my normal response, though, is something that includes "... my pleasure....".
    I don't believe I have ever said "Not at all." It sounds really odd, ancient, stilted, meaningless - to me.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm with velisarius. I seldom say "You're welcome"; I usually just give a smile or other non-verbal acknowledgement (a habit which has led me into problems in the past when speaking languages where a verbal response is obligatory).

    I don't think I ever say "Not at all".
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    Not at all isn't something I'm likely to say, but it doesn't sound particularly odd or stilted to me. I don't see it as the sort of phrase that's useful under all circumstances in which you want to acknowledge someone's thanks, though. If someone says, "You've gone to a lot of trouble. Thanks so much!" then "Not at all" seems like an appropriate response. But
    A: "Thanks!"
    B: "Not at all."
    ...not sure that makes sense to me. But then it is usually a mistake to examine conventional phrases too closely, so perhaps I'm over-thinking it.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    English is not so rich in conventional phrases (formulae of politeness) as some other languages, which can lead to such difficulties as Loob mentions. You have to come up with something on an ad hoc basis to suit the situation. "You're welcome" is a handy cover-all phrase I think. (Never use it myself).
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Anyway, I would make a case for retaining "Not at all" if the situation warrants it: a sort of disclaimer. "You've been to a lot of bother on my behalf." "Not at all!"
    But how does that relate to 'Not at all' as used in the opening post? In your example, 'Not at all!' simply means ' I haven't been to a lot of bother on your behalf, not at all'. It's not used as a way of responding to someone's thanks, is it?

    Oh, I'll be using different expressions on a case by case basis. That seems to be a fair solution.

    By the way, I recently came across another usage of 'Not at all', when I was watching Shameless (an American TV series). It appears to have been used to mean 'There's nothing to apologize for', 'That's fine'.

    A: I'm sorry about the mess. We've just been a little preoccupied.
    B: Not at all.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I agree that in AE "Not at all" is not stitled in particular, whereas "no problem" is much overused and to my ear sounds somewhat slangy and stilted itself if the speaker seems never to have any alternative way of expressing this idea.
    I hate "no problem" as an answer to "thank you", but I've grown to hate it less after hearing it for at least three decades. I know that speakers don't mean to sound snotty or dismissive when they use it, but it still sounds snotty and dismissive to me.

    "Not at all" sounds somewhat like a moldy version of "no problem", particularly when it is being used to answer the simple "thank you". For some reason, it doesn't sound nearly as rude to me as "no problem" does. I think panjandrum's "ancient" and "meaningless" cover my thoughts about the expression.
     
    Last edited:
    It's always interesting to me when people have different subjective reactions to the same phrase, and come to think of it, there are times when just a smile or facial expression can acknowledge either perfunctorily or in a genuine somewhat embarassed manner the receipt of a thank-you. Not sure how a smile is sufficient on the phone, though, and can't imagine going through life never saying anything, I mean, what's with that, huh??? :confused:

    And velisarious, your statement "English is not so rich in conventional phrases (formulae of politeness) as some other languages, which can lead to such difficulties as Loob mentions" now intrigues me.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'm very sure 'You're welcome' is an American import. I don't think any BrE speaker would have used it in 1980. These days 'you're welcome' is unremarkable. And I hear the Australian version too, 'no worries' in addition to 'no problem'.

    I'm afraid I'm one of those people who do use not at all, together with pleasure (or fuller, my pleasure - though never it's been my pleasure or the pleasure's mine). Not at all means there's no need to thank me at all.
     

    Phil-Olly

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    But how does that relate to 'Not at all' as used in the opening post? In your example, 'Not at all!' simply means ' I haven't been to a lot of bother on your behalf, not at all'. It's not used as a way of responding to someone's thanks, is it?
    Well, I think it is - or is the origin of this response to a simple 'Thank you'

    'Thank you so much. You've gone to a lot of trouble'. 'Not at all'
    Just as:
    'Thank you so much. It must have caused you quite a problem.' 'No problem'
    or
    'Thank you for doing that. I hope it wasn't too tedious.' 'No, it was a pleasure'
    or
    'Thank you for inviting us to your home.' 'You're welcome.'
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Well, I think it is - or is the origin of this response to a simple 'Thank you'

    'Thank you so much. You've gone to a lot of trouble'. 'Not at all''
    But the usage of 'not at all' extends further than that. I've seen it used in response to just 'thank you', not followed with words to the effect of 'you've gone to a lot of trouble' -- and then there's this odd usage I mention in my post #11. :)
     

    Phil-Olly

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    But the usage of 'not at all' extends further than that. I've seen it used in response to just 'thank you', not followed with words to the effect of 'you've gone to a lot of trouble' -- and then there's this odd usage I mention in my post #11. :)
    Sorry, I can't have been clear.

    I meant that the origins of each of these phrases, "No problem", "Not at all", "It's a pleasure" etc. probably had their origins in a rational response to whatever expression of gratitude was given.

    Then, of course, each of them becomes a stock response, subject to current fashion, with little thought given to how appropriate they are in the circumstances. It seems to be only pedants like me who stop to wonder whether the situation warrants a "My pleasure" or a "Not at all" !
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    No, your post was clear enough and I agree, that sounds like a likely origin of the phrase. I just wanted to stress how it's being used these days. It's good you even stop to wonder about things like that, since there are those could go a lifetime without saying neither 'thank you' nor 'Not at all', 'No problem' or 'You're welcome', for that matter... :D
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thanks for all your answers. :) I can see how Brits may prefer it to 'You're welcome', but I gather that 'not at all' is virtually non-existent among younger generation (my age), and I would do well not to use it, right?
    I think younger people may say something like:
    "Yup. Anytime."

    It is interesting that in COCA "not at all" follows something like
    "Mind if I join you?" or "Nothing wrong with a hug."
    On the other hand when I typed "It was my pleasure" in the query box I got a lot of expressions of gratitude before it.

    I think it all depends how we say the phrase "not at all", whether it is said with an exciting and nice tone of voice to mean "Not at all. I really enjoyed it."
    Panjundrum said that you can say anything as long as it is nice.

    Since speakers A are praising you, you might also say: I take it as a compliment.
     
    Last edited:

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    It is interesting that in COCA "not at all" follows something like
    "Mind if I join you?" or "Nothing wrong with a hug."
    This should come as no surprise -- that's a standard usage of 'not at all'. There are 7210 examples of 'not at all' in COCA, among which quite a few have been used in response to someone's expression of gratitude or even apologies (see post #11).
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    This should come as no surprise -- that's a standard usage of 'not at all'. There are 7210 examples of 'not at all' in COCA, among which quite a few have been used in response to someone's expression of gratitude or even apologies (see post #11).
    This is because "not at all" fits in a situation where somebody expresses some kind of worry.
    I hope I haven't messed anything up.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top