OK vs. okay

Okay, OK, and O.K. are all acceptable spellings of the word. OK is more common in edited writing, but okay appears about a third of the time. O.K. is preferred by a few publications, including the New York Times, even though it is not an abbreviation of anything in modern use.

The word has several main uses. As an adjective, it’s synonymous with acceptablepassable, or good. Something that is OK is positive, but not as positive as it could be. It also works as an interjection used to express agreement or approval. From this extends its verb sense, to agree or approve, and from the verb extends its noun sense, agreement or approval.

There are many theories about the origins of the word, some more plausible than others. The Oxford English Dictionary and the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology agree that it’s apparently an early-19th-century American abbreviation of oll korrect, a jocular misspeling of all correct. Other theories are that the word somehow came from Old Kinderhook, the nickname of U.S. president Martin Van Buren; that it has Native American origins; that it was a Morse code abbreviation; and that it is an abbreviation of out of kash, another jocular misspelling (for out of cash).



OK, maybe it’s not there yet. [Wall Street Journal]

OK, so what myths are we talking about? [Guardian]

It might be OK for a beefy Wallaby to stare down a bunch of powerfully built Kiwis as they launch into a ferocious, blood-curdling haka. [Sydney Morning Herald]


Okay, okay, I’ll stop right there. [The Star-Ledger]

FDA okays Thermo Fisher test to help kidney transplant [Reuters]


We’ve done O.K. in the downturn because we started selling online in 2007. [New York Times]

60 thoughts on “OK vs. okay”

  1. I’ve seen attributions for the origin of “OK” to be a holdover from a slang trend in 19th century America that was akin to Cockney Rhyming Slang.  The idea was to intentionally mis-spell and abbreviate common phrases – OK being the truncation of “oll korrect”.  

  2. O.K. also has connection to President Martin Van Buren, whose nickname was “Old Kinderhook.” The best explanation for okay/OK/O.K., however is indeed the intentionally misspelled abbreviation for “all correct” that Matt Seeman already mentioned.

  3. Hold on! Who said okay was formal? It’s very (stress on very here) casual. I get the point though, OK or O.K. is much more casual than OK. You’re right or I agree would be slightly more formal.

    • I think ‘Okay’ is very usual in Asian, in countries as India and Pakistan.

      I was talking with Amazon customer support, and most of them chatting are Indian.

      The fact that ‘Okay’ has been classed as sarcasm, if someone says something odd to you, and your response is ‘okay’, that is quite usual.

      Taken from wikipedia:

      Saying okay in a sarcastic or questioning tone or elongating the word can indicate that the person one is talking to is considered crazy and/or exasperatingly stubborn in their view. “I really saw a UFO last night!” “Okay…”


      So when I was chatting with amazon customer support, I took the guy who spoke to me very rude. although I did not realise that this could be very common in Asia after talking to some other indian people.

      I do not feel that it was wrong of me to think that, because not that many people say it. Even if so, the guy on the line chatting with me did not respond in a way how customer supporter does.

      It is the end of ‘Okay’ now. When I was in primary school, our teacher told us to write in a formal way, but he said that we should not twist ‘OK’ to its formal word, unless if we are responding to something sarcastic.

      Now I am 19, and I usually write formal, but I never include ‘ok’ to its formal.

      Please do not mind my comments.

    • On novels, I see a lot of ‘okay’ here and there. I was reading the ‘Gone’ series by Michael Grant, but by the end of the series, ‘Light’, he changed his ‘OK’ to ‘okay’. Anyone else who read these books ever notice that? So, I wouldn’t call it informal/ casual. I’m not exactly a hundred per cent sure, but most people like to use ‘okay’ instead of ‘OK.’ By people I mean writers, poets etc. Whichever one you’d like to use really, but for me I was born up saying ‘OK’. I’m not saying ‘okay’ is bad or anything, but it just doesn’t feel right for me any more. Heh, habits. My children also use ‘OK’, I never taught them but they read a lot of books so they probably got it from there. But for O.K, I need to do a bit more research, since believe it or not I never knew you could write it like that. I mean I did see it, but you know adults these days. Cheers :)

    • It is used to express agreement or acceptances.

      That is basically it, even Oxford dictionary does not have a better description other then examples.

      • It is also used to say acceptable, in a way not expressing agreement or acceptance of a proposal.
        Do you like kidney beans?
        Kidney beans are OK, vs
        Kidney beans are fantastic!, vs
        Kidney beans are just total bluck, (as my kids would say.)
        There is no acceptance or agreement in that question/answer.

    • I am in the military and have never heard that — if that helps. Maybe it’s a code I am unfamiliar with but it’s very obscure if that is the case. (Or if are you referring to non-U.S. military)

    • “Okay” is more formal because it is longer thus takes more time to write or type. For instance, writing a note or response to a note, typing on social media websites, websites like this, other websites where you can comment, and especially texting, “OK” is used, partly to save time but also because what is being written isn’t formal or even a little formal.

      • Also, the article didn’t mention whether ok is better than OK or Ok. The “OK” version is always the autocorrect (which my browser just indicated is two separate words) version when I type and text “ok”. If anyone has any ideas of the correct format or when to use which form, please reply to this comment.
        P.S. My browser’s built in spell check is telling me “texting” is spelled wrong. Wow. Texting has been a real word for years. It is definitely not a slang word like “y’all” or “ain’t”. Does anyone have any ideas why?

    • Yet “till” is considered less formal than its derivation, “until” which is newer and previously considered informal. Now, many even consider “till” to be slang which isn’t true. English makes little sense.

    • I agree. The whole point of “OK is for it to be a brief sign-off or agreement. Somewhere along the line it was randomly decided by a few simps that to spell out the letters is fancier, more formal, etc.

    • The thing is, if you write ‘OKed’ in Microsoft Word, it underlines it as an error/ spelling mistake. On the other hand, writing ‘okayed’, it says it’s a valid word. But ‘okayed the idea’ isn’t a very common phrase/ just saying okayed. So, try to avoid that kind of writing, instead say something like ‘they all agreed on the idea’

      • In fairness, just because Microsoft Word underlines something as misspelled doesn’t mean that it’s actually misspelled. There are plenty of actual words out there that don’t appear in the MS Word dictionary. I’m not saying that ‘okayed’ is proper or anything, just that Microsoft Word is hardly the unerring arbiter of the English language.

      • An acronym in past tense should be written with an apostrophe d. For example, “OK’d,” not “OKed.”

  4. and now in modern times with the introduction of texting/chat speak we have the abbreviations “k” or “kk” or even “mmk/mmkay”. Weird, I know, but those are beyond casual forms of the word and just thought I’d mention them but I do not advise anyone to write any of those in a school paper or something…

  5. You have said that ‘the words has’ when it should be have because words is plural not singular.

  6. Practically speaking, all or any of them would be considered slang in an academic paper. Just avoid the usage entirely!

    • It’s ‘it’s’ in this case as you are replacing ‘it is’. A question mark is also required.

  7. FYI, the word “misspelling” is itself misspelled in the third line of the third paragraph above; it is missing the second “l”.

    • Just guessing, but perhaps “All OK.” ‘All’ being the correct version of ‘oll’, so A-OK = better than OK?

  8. I don’t ever use OK or O.K. because it doesn’t look right in sentences to me.

    i.e. “I’m feeling okay today” vs. “I’m feeling OK today”

    The necessary capital letters for ‘OK’ draw attention away from the focus.

  9. I’m a writer and an editor, and I see Okay far more often than OK. Of course, I also change OK to Okay for works at my publisher. So do the other editors.

  10. Somebody recently told me that O.K. definition is ‘everything is fine/okey’ and believe it or not originates out of ola kala (ολα καλα) a greek phrase that some greek/american(we dont know who used it for sure) soldiers used as a code in the 2ond WW to explain their situation through the radio. (time is money hehe)

  11. Its from the French phrase, “au quai,” meaning, “to the dock!” Upon finishing loading a pallet, platform or carriage, port workers would shout this phrase when it was “OK” to be shipped out on a boat. The phrase migrated all over the world, because French is so beautiful and mysterious, and people tend to feel better about themselves when they utter even its short phrases. -/- Ignore other silly rumors that make no sense and require misspellings and further rumors to piece together. -/- Notice further, that you’ll even feel better about yourself when you share this French origin.

    • I like your explanation best, OneReckoning. You’re right. I do feel better when I share the French origin.

  12. I always prefer to use ‘OK,’ seeing I was taught like that. I’m not sure if there is a ‘correct’ way of writing it, but I may only sometimes say ‘okay’ in something like speech of a character.

  13. “……..American abbreviation of oll korrect, a jocular misspeling of all correct.”
    They misspelled the word misspelling lol

    • Perspicacity is shrewdness. Perspicuity, which you misspelled, means clearness or preciseness of speech.

  14. I prefer “okay,” if for no other reason than because it looks/feels like an actual word rather than an abbreviation. The “OK” and “O.K.” variations — even if they are how it originated — look cheap to me. Also, as a native Texan, “OK” makes me think of my neighbor state, Oklahoma. “Okay,” on the other hand, makes me think of the word. It actually bothers me more than it should when “OK” or “O.K.” is used instead of “okay.” Not saying that any of what I just said is a good/valid reason to prefer “okay,” by any means, but that’s how I feel about it.

  15. I’m feeling okay with this o.k. article. I think I’m not really o.k but thats ok.

    OK, I actually am okeh, but that an okay matter for me, ok.

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