Accessibility links


From VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

Imagine you are watching a film about love, such as “Before Sunrise.

A couple says goodbye at a train station. They want to meet in the same place six months later. Their sad farewell sounds like this:

"But I'm gonna be here."
"Okay, me too."
"All right."
"And we're not gonna call, write or... No."
"No, it's depressing."
"Yeah, okay."
"All right. All right, your train's gonna leave. Say goodbye."
"Bye."

After you wipe the tear from your eye, some questions might come to your mind: What is the grammatical purpose of okay?* And why do Americans use the word so often?

In today's Everyday Grammar, we are going to explore the different uses of the word okay. We will learn how its meaning can change depending on how it is used in a sentence.

The word okay

The word okay can act as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.

Its meaning changes slightly when it is used in different ways.

When speakers use okay as a noun, they usually mean "approval or permission.”

For example, a coworker might tell you, "The boss gave her okay." This is an informal way of saying that the boss gave her permission.

The verb form of okay has a similar meaning. It means to approve something.

So, a coworker could tell you "The boss okay'ed this project."

This means the boss approved the project. This use is informal but you will hear it often, even in professional settings.

Finally, there is the adjective form of okay. It means fairly good, or not bad. So, you might hear an American say, "The new boss seems like an okay person."

This statement does not praise the new boss. Rather, it means that there is nothing remarkable about the new boss. He or she is okay - not great and not bad.

Now that we have covered some of the basic meanings of okay, we can turn to what it means when it acts as an adverb.

Adverbs

Adverbs are one of the most difficult subjects in English grammar. They are difficult because they represent a large group of words that have many uses.

In general, the definition of an adverb is this: a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence.

Adverbs are often used to show time, place or manner.

They are also used as discourse markers – words that organize a conversation. These words show transitions, agreements, disagreements, and so on.

Discourse markers

A common discourse marker in American English is (you guessed it) okay.

As a discourse marker, it has a few common uses.

1. Acknowledge what another person says

The first use is to acknowledge what another person says.

So, for example, consider this situation. Two friends are ordering dinner at a restaurant. Their conversation goes like this:

A: Should we order the salad?

B: Yeah!

A: Okay!

In this example, one speaker uses okay to show that she acknowledges what the other speaker says. She also uses okay to show agreement.

However, Americans often use okay even when they do not necessarily agree with each other. Consider the same situation at a restaurant.

A: Should we order the salad?

B: No, it does not look very good.

A: Okay, but I would like to eat some kind of vegetable.

Once again, okay serves the purpose of acknowledging what another person says. The speakers may disagree about what to eat, but one speaker is using okay to show that she understands what the other speaker is saying.

In that sense, okay helps organize a conversation.

2. Show the end of a conversation (or topic of conversation)

A second common use of okay is to show a transition to the end of a conversation. It can also be used to show the end of a topic in a conversation.

Here is an example. Imagine you are at a car rental business. The employee has just explained to the customer how to return the car:

Employee: Okay, so you understand how to return the car?

Customer: Yeah, I understand.

Employee: Okay, I'll see you in a few days!

The employee uses the word okay twice. In both cases, the employee uses it to show that the conversation will soon be ending. This use of okay helps make it clear to both speakers that the conversation is coming to a close.

In this way, neither speaker is surprised when the conversation does end!

What about the film?

Now that you have learned about the different meanings of okay, think back to the ending of the film “Before Sunrise.”

You heard the speakers use okay several times in the goodbye scene. How were they using the word okay? Did they use it as a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb?

"But I'm gonna be here."
"Okay, me too."
"All right."
"And we're not gonna call, write or... No."
"No, it's depressing."
"Yeah, okay."
"All right. All right, your train's gonna leave. Say goodbye."
"Bye."

What did they mean when they said okay?

Write to us in the comments section of our website or on our Facebook page.

Okay, it has been great teaching this lesson, but we have to go now. Until next time!

I'm John Russell.

Okay, and I'm Jill Robbins.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

*This word is sometimes spelled as OK. For the sake of clarity and consistency, we have spelled it as "okay" throughout this story.

________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

adverb – n. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree

coworker – n. a person who works at the place where you work : someone you work with

discourse marker – n. a word or words that organize a conversation

conversation – n. oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas

acknowledge – v. to make known the receipt of; to make known that you have heard another person's statement

transition – n. a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another

Your opinion

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG