What is the grammatical purpose of okay?
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.
Acknowledge what another person says
The first use is to acknowledge what another person says. So, for example, two friends are ordering dinner at a restaurant. Their conversation goes like this:
A: Should we order the salad?
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.
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.
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!
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