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OK vs. Okay: Which One Should You Use?

The phrase “okay” has been described as the most spoken and written phrase on the planet.

The word is used and recognized across most languages, with many adopting their own spellings (like okei in Norwegian).

However, the two-lettered spelling of “OK” has become just as universally common. But is this version acceptable to use in formal writing? 

We’ll explain the difference below, and also take a look at what the different style guides have to say about the matter.

OK vs. Okay: What’s the Difference?

There’s actually no difference in meaning between “OK” and “okay” (unless you’re talking about the abbreviation for Oklahoma, of course). 

They simply represent two different ways to spell the same word, which, according to Merriam-Webster, means “all right.”

Though it’s generally used as an adverb or adjective, “okay” can also be used as a verb, meaning to give approval to something (for example, “Has Mark okayed that budget proposal yet?”)

Examples of Okay and OK in Sentences

See the examples of “okay” / “ok” in sentences below. You’ll see that in most cases, the term (in either spelling) is used as a synonym for “all right,” though it can also be used as a verb (meaning “to approve”).

  • Everything is going to be okay.
  • He’s not brilliant, but he’s an okay student. 
  • It’s okay if you don’t want to come with us tonight.
  • I’m not really feeling okay; maybe I’ll stay home.
  • It’s OK; I don’t really care anyway.
  • Ask Rachel if she can OK that transfer.
  • Is it ok if I call you later?
  • OK, let’s get started.

The Origins of Okay

As anyone who’s seen Silver Linings Playbook knows, the term “OK” originated with Martin Van Buren’s nickname, “Old Kinderhook.”

OK, maybe not quite.

While Van Buren’s campaign coined the slogan “Vote for O.K.” in 1840, there’s also evidence of the term in an 1839 article for the Boston Morning Post, in which it was used as an abbreviation for “oll korrect,” a misspelling of “all correct.”

Whichever story of its origin you want to believe, we do know for sure that “OK” emerged several decades before its phonetic spelling of “okay.”

Is It Okay to Write OK?

Generally speaking, we can say that yes, it is okay (and sometimes preferred) to write “OK,” though you may want to double check with your style guide to get their word on it.

The AP Stylebook, for example, always requires “OK,” even when it’s used as a verb (e.g., “OK’ed” and “OK’ing”).

The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, gives no preference, stating that “okay” is “an equal variant (also standard)” to “OK.”

Both Are Okay

So, what’s the bottom line?

Both “okay” and “ok” are acceptable spellings in formal writing; which one you should use simply comes down to your preferred style guide (or, if you aren’t tied to one, your personal preference).

By Kaelyn Barron 

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