“OK” is one of the most frequently used words in the English language. We say it all the time. And in spoken conversations, it’s a perfectly good word to use. If you stopped by your coworker’s office and asked him or her for a favor, and your coworker responded by saying “OK,” that would be a very pleasant and agreeable exchange.

But the word “OK” can take on a whole different tone when it’s used in an instant message or email. Once again, let’s imagine that you ask your coworker for a favor. But this time, you do it in an email rather than in person. Your coworker emails back with just one word – “OK.” Now the response doesn’t seem all that friendly. It seems curt, and maybe even angry and aggressive.

Author Monica Torres investigated why the word “OK” feels so different in written conversation. And she found that it may be less about the actual word and more about the brevity of the response. When we’re talking to someone face-to-face and that person says “OK,” he or she often includes a nod or a smile. That makes the word seem friendly. But in a text or email, a simple “OK” doesn’t tell us anything about the person’s mood or emotions. Maybe the person is busy and only had time for a quick one-word response. Or maybe the person is frustrated and annoyed by the favor that you’ve requested. There’s no way to know!

So if you want to reply with an “OK” but you don’t want there to be any misconceptions, what should you do? Torres suggests that you simply add a few words to your response. Saying “OK, sounds good” or “OK, great” sounds friendly. Even adding an exclamation point to the end of your “OK” is probably enough to make it a positive response. Got it? OK!

Torres, M. (2019, February 12). Why replying ‘OK’ in work chats sounds so aggressive, according to an internet linguist. HuffPost. Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/okay-ok-k-workplace-language_l_5c619182e4b0910c63f35750