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TOEFL Tip #159: “Okay” Is Often Not Okay

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 29, 2012

In casual conversation, people often reply in the affirmative with the word “Okay”. This can be a useful word to indicate that you agree with what is being said, but be careful. A big part of the meaning comes from the way “okay” is said, rather than from the word itself.

For example, when a wife says, “I’m going to work now,” her husband might say “ooo-kayyyy” in a sing-song voice. In this context, his response means something like, “I’ve heard that you’re saying good bye, and I’m wishing you a good day.”

Change the way “okay” is said, however, and the word is far less affirming.

Consider this situation: A father says to his young son, “Clean up your room,” and the child says, “okay,” but 30 minutes later, the room is still a mess! The father thinks the “okay” means, “I’ll do that right now,” but what did the child mean? Here are a few possibilities:

1. “I heard you, but I don’t want to do it right now. I’ll do it later”
2. “I heard you say something, but I wasn’t really listening. I’m a kid and you’re always telling me to do something, so I just tune you out most of the time.”
3. “I heard you, but I have no intention of doing what you’ve asked. I only said ‘okay’ so that you’d leave me alone while I play with my computer.”

As we can see from this example of the parent and child, it’s not always clear what “okay” means. When the word is said with little or no emotion, it can be unintentionally insulting, as in #3 above and sometimes #2.

At best, an emotionless “okay” means, “I heard you and am waiting for more information.” This is not rude (like #3), but it might suggest that you do not comprehend what was said to you. It’s like saying “go on” or “continue,” to keep the conversation going. These expressions do not always indicate that you understand what is being discussed.

So, be sure you’re saying “okay” with excitement and interest in your voice when you communicate. Better yet, say a phrase like “I get it” or “that makes sense” or “I understand.” These phrases are harder to say emotionlessly, so you’ll convey what you actually feel.


Categories: TOEFL for Pharmacy,TOEFL for University,TOEFL Preparation

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