Episode 5
Lesson Recap

Difference Between Two Korean "Thank You" Phrases & Several Responses To Thank You In Korean

Key Points &
  • 감사 is a Chinese-derived word with the meaning of gratitude.

  • In the Korean language system, many Chinese-derived words are considered more formal than their Korean-native counterparts.

  • However, both 감사합니다 and 고맙습니다 can be used interchangeably.

  • 고맙습니다 : Thank you

  • 감사합니다: Thank you

  • 아니에요 : Don’t mention it; No worries. (Lit. It’s not ) (informal-polite)

  • 아닙니다 : Don't’ mention it; No worries. (Lit. It’s not ) (formal-polite)

  • 별말씀을요 : Don’t mention it (Lit. It’s an unexpected remark or It’s a special remark)

  • 천만에요 : Not at all (Strongly negates what the other person has just said. When in doubt, use one of the other responses. )


Directions: Assume the role in the situation and respond with one of the phrases learned in this episode.

1. You willingly helped your colleague with his project, and he now thanks you for it.

2. Your elderly neighbors thank you profusely for helping them carry a couple of heavy boxes.

3.  You’re at a meeting with a few people from your client company, and one of them thank you for the help you provided last week.

Episode 5

Hello, everyone! This is Kay from essentialkorean.com.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to thank someone and how to respond when people say thank you. Though we briefly introduced the two ways to say thank you in Episode 1, we’ll take a closer look at them and demystify their differences, which in many places are lost in translation.

To recall, the two most frequently used Korean phrases of gratitude are

고맙습니다 and 감사합니다.  Let’s review. Repeat after me:

고맙습니다   고맙습니다    고맙습니다

감사합니다   감사합니다   감사합니다.

These both mean Thank you in English.

Now, if you asked Koreans what the difference between the two phrases is, you might hear, “there’s no difference.”

If you find yourself unsatisfied with this answer, I am with you. Similar answers frustrated ME as a learner when I was learning Japanese:  I would run into words or phrases with similar meanings and ask native speakers what the difference between them was. I would be dismayed when they responded with “there’s no difference,” which continued to leave me in the dark.  One of the missions of EssentialKorean.com and this podcast is to fill this kind of gap in learners’ experience while learning Korean as a foreign language. So here we are.

One other answer you might hear about the difference is, 감사합니다 is more formal than 고맙습니다 The word 감사 in 감사합니다 is derived from Chinese and, in the Korean language system, many Chinese-derived words are considered more formal than their Korean-native counterparts. But I don’t think this difference is upheld specifically for the 감사합니다- 고맙습니다 pair in contemporary Korean culture. For example, one newspaper wrote it was noteworthy that the prominent prime time news anchor 손석희 persistently used 고맙습니다 for the closing remark, and also when thanking invited guests. It also pointed out that the native Korean phrase 고맙습니다 should not be considered any less formal or than the Chinese-derived 감사합니다.  This is rooted in the quiet movement towards changing the notion that the Chinese-derived language holds a superior status than its Korean native counterparts in the Korean language system.

I’d like to add though that all this is very technical and you don’t have to think about this in daily use.

So this is how I’d summarize the difference in the two Korean thank you expressions:

1) they both express gratitude;

2) the word 감사 in 감사합니다 is a Chinese-derived word whereas 고맙습니다 is pure Korean; and

3) they can be used in the same situation interchangeably.

On a personal note, I’m biased towards 고맙습니다. I like the feel of the word and unconsciously use it more often than 감사합니다. One distinct exception would be when there is the syllable 고 near the word 고맙습니다 in my utterance or writing. Then, I would be likely to choose 감사합니다, just for a better flow of the sound.

Well, don’t be biased like me though. Use both expressions equally to master both expressions. So here you go. Repeat after me:

고맙습니다.   고맙습니다.   고맙습니다 and

감사합니다.   감사합니다.   감사합니다

Now how do people respond to 고맙습니다 or 감사합니다? It depends, but here are a few frequently used responses:

아니에요. 별말씀을요. 천만에요. Again, 아니에요. 별말씀을요. 천만에요.

These three expressions, as a response to 고맙습니다 or 감사합니다, functionally correspond to the English expression You’re welcome.

Now we’ll take a closer look at each expression:

아니에요 should sound familiar to those who listened to the previous podcast, Episode 4:   This was a response to an apology, which literally means It’s not.

So as a response to an apology, the speaker means no need to be sorry;

On the other hand, as a response to Thank you, the speaker means no need to thank me, downplaying the act of being thanked for.

I want to introduce one related phrase here. 아닙니다.  아닙니다. 아닙니다.

What do you hear in common between 아니에요 and 아닙니다? Yes, it’s 아니.

아니 is the verb stem of the verb 아니다, which means to not be. 아니에요 is an informal polite form derived from this verb 아니다; whereas 아닙니다 is a formal polite form derived from the same verb 아니다.  So, 아니에요 is an informal polite form. 아닙니다 is a formal polite form. As the terms suggest, 아니에요 and 아닙니다 both are polite; but 아닙니다 sounds more formal than 아니에요. 아닙니다. 아니에요.

Next expression is 별말씀을요. This literally means It’s an unexpected remark or It’s a special remark, as 별 means special and 말씀 is an honorific for speech or words. This phrase suggests that the expression of gratitude is unexpected or that the act does not deserve such a special remark. In terms of the usage, since 별말씀을요, as mentioned earlier, is an honorific expression, use it to a ‘higher’ person’. It would sound unnatural if used to someone to whom you do not normally speak in honorific language: for example, in a situations where your staff thanked you for something you, a team leader, did, 별말씀을요 to your junior would sound a little off.

Ok, moving on. The next expression 천만에요 means Not at all.  This particular phrase has been favored by many Korean textbooks as a response to 고맙습니다 and 감사합니다, with You’re welcome presented as the formal translation. Two things I’d like to note: 1) Colloquially, 아니에요 and 별말씀을요 are used far more than 천만에요; and 2) 천만에요 is the most emphatic NOT among the three, 아니에요 별말씀을요 and 천만에요.

We’ve had a close look at three expressions that can be used as a response to 고맙습니다 and 감사합니다.  Remember, though, that a native speaker wouldn't choose which phrase to use based on the literal meaning; rather, they view these phrases pragmatically and use them based on the situation.

- - - - -

Ok, after a somewhat lengthy explanation for the background of these expressions, let’s take some time to review in the form of a quiz.

Q1. Which one of the two Thank You phrases has the Chinese-derived word in it - 감사합니다 or 고맙습니다?  (You’re right. It’s 감사합니다. 감사 is the Chinese-derived word for gratitude.)

Q2: Which expression can you use as a response both to an apology and to an expression of gratitude - 아니에요 or 천만에요? (You’re right if you answered 아니에요.)

감사합니다 - 아니에요 ; 죄송합니다 - 아니에요 As you just heard, 아니에요 works as a response to both 감사합니다, an expression of gratitude, and 죄송합니다, an apology. )

Q3: What is the formal form of 아니에요? (If you said 아닙니다, you are correct! 아닙니다.  아니에요. The 요 ending indicates it’s informal polite. 아닙니다. 니다 indicates that it’s formal polite.)

Our last question.

Q4: Which expression is a response to 감사합니다 or 고맙습니다, with a literal meaning, It’s a special remark - 천만에요 or 별말씀을요? You are correct again if you said 별말씀을요.

Ok, so we’re done with our review.

_ _ _ _ _


Now, before I let you go, let me suggest how you can practice what you learned today. No magic formula.

-  Whenever you thank someone, think in your head 고맙습니다 or 감사합니다 and say them out loud whenever possible.

- When someone says thank you, think or say one of the four phases you learned as possible responses to 고맙습니다 and 감사합니다:

아니에요-아닙니다  / 별말씀을요 / and 천만에요

OK, That’s it for this episode.

I’ll be back in one week.

Until then, stay healthy.