Out of various usages, 'OK' when used as a response to someone's statement simply means that we got it.

However, I had read somewhere that one of the theories say that 'OK' was actually 'All Correct!' And this is the truth. In most of the cases when we say 'OK', it means positively okay. Also, if we consider its Greek origin, it means ola kala - It's good!

She has reached safely ~ Okay!

I felt it a bit odd while replying to the confirmation that one of my friends has died (RIP). The conversation was...

Yes Maulik, it's confirmed. 'X' is dead ~ Okay

What I needed is a short word, a kinda synonym of 'Ok' because 'all is not correct there'.

So, can Okay be used there? Isn't it a bit rude?

  • 3
    Tone of voice expresses your sentiment. A jaunty or jubilant OK would be an inappropriate acknowledgement when your friend is telling you that there has been a death in his family. But it's certainly possible to impart a tone of concern, which says you're there if needed... even to "OK".
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 13:25
  • 4
    If a word is commonly used to mean something, don't worry about its etymology when you go to use it that way.
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 13:39
  • 7
    "Okay" would be fine in that context. A more informal variant (like, "okie-dokie") would not; the occasion is too somber. You can always offset any potential misunderstanding of "okay" with a follow-on comment, such as: "Okay, thank you for letting me know," or, "Okay. I'm sorry to hear that."
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 13:44
  • All have answered and commented very nicely. Thanks to all. I was very much concerned about this.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 4:29
  • Just want to say that there are many theories as to the origins of "OK" (some which posit that "okay" is the more correct form). Most of them are questionable at best(including the one you cite). They don't reflect modern usage anyhow. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 9:40

7 Answers 7


In most of the cases when we say 'OK', it means positively okay.

What I needed is a short word, a kinda synonym of 'Ok' because 'all is not correct there'.

In these cases you are trying to convey that you have received and understand the information. If you don't wish to convey a feeling with it, the phrase, "I understand" is neutral and provides the necessary feedback - that you received the message and understand it. Typically you'd also thank the person for letting you know, ask if there was anything you might be able to do to help them, and unless you needed more information you'd assume they need to contact others as well and conclude the discussion.

So, can Okay be used there? Isn't it a bit rude?

Okay can be used, but it isn't considered polite or appropriate for the situations you've presented.

  1. If you are conversing with someone personally, negatively affected by the loss or bad news you should convey condolences, which might be as simple as, "I'm sorry."

  2. If you are conversing with someone not grieving over the bad news, conveying a sense of sadness is more appropriate, "That's too bad."

  3. If you are expected to be affected personally by the news, it might be appropriate instead to express dismay or sadness on the news, "Oh no!"

In any of the above cases, "I understand" would be better than "okay", but this isn't a situation where someone will be offended. Everyone reacts to bad news differently, and there's a lot of latitude for individual responses. "Okay" isn't going to be seen as offensive.

  • You addressed what exactly I am concerned about! +1 Thanks.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 4:26

For the specific circumstance you suggest (responding to the death of a friend), the standard, polite response would be "I'm sorry." However, as it is used (not worrying about the etymology), 'Okay' is not wrong.

'Okay' can be used as a short, generic acknowledgment in most contexts. It does not always suggest that the speaker is happy about something, merely that they've heard and understand it. As TRomano points out, the tone of voice in which one says 'Okay' will convey how they feel about the information they're acknowledging. It can be happy, neutral, or sad. The 'Okay Guy' meme demonstrates that there's plenty of contexts were 'Okay' conveys "a feeling of helpless resignation".


I'm putting this as answer only because it's too long for a comment.

As others have hinted, one of the meanings of okay is I acknowledge what you said. It does not have to be a rousing affirmation, as in:

Our team won the World Cup!

Maulik, it's confirmed, 'X' is dead.

A synonym for use in both contexts is all right.

But the context may call for a more extended remark, depending upon who has died and your relationship with the person telling you. It could be a almost a sigh of relief, if some loved one has been struggling for many months or years with a fatal disease. In this context, okay may be most appropriate.

In general, upon hearing about deaths, I'm sorry to hear that is the generic response. This is so generic that it means much like

How are you?

My father passed away 3(0) years ago.
--I'm sorry (to hear that).

The use of I'm sorry in this context has become so formulaic that I don't use it in some circumstances, such as I just met someone and they are telling me their life history and they mention that so-and-so relative/loved one/friend passed away X years ago. The temptation to interject I'm sorry is strong. Yet, if I never met the diseased, and just met the guy I'm talking with, it seems just as appropriate to not respond.


"OK" can just indicate acknowledgement of what's been said, it doesn't always mean anything more.

If "OK" is all you say in response to "my wife is dead" then yes, that's rude in pretty much any context because more is expected of you than mere acknowledgement.

If all you say in response to "your wife is dead" is "OK" then it's not rude, it just means you don't have any other response to such shocking news.

If you say "that's OK" in response to "your wife is dead" then that does suggest that the death doesn't matter much to you (perhaps only only saying it because you're in denial, but still saying it). Although again, in such circumstances, you'd probably be held to lower standards of etiquette than normal.

Like J.R. says, using "OK" at the start of a sentence can be almost meaningless. If your employee says "my wife is dead" and you respond, "OK, that's terrible, I'm so sorry for your loss. You should take as much time off as you need.", then that's not rude and it certainly doesn't suggest in any way that the news is good. It's just a verbal tic, or possibly the employer trying to convey that the employee's wife's death doesn't present an immediate practical problem to the employer.

More generally than your specific case of bad news, in British English at least, "OK" is like "alright", it's often non-committal. "How was the movie": "It was OK", means it wasn't good. "How was the surgery?": "It was OK" might mean everything went perfectly well, but "OK" is as much as you're saying because surgery in itself is never good. "How are you doing?", "I'm OK" means nothing at all. If you don't convey anything by tone or expression then it's a non-answer.


I am not a native English speaker, but I don't think it's proper to say "OK" in response to some bad news such as someone's death. Nor do I think there is single word to express our condolence or grief at such occasions except "sorry", which is used with some other words, not on its own. We can use the following phrases depending on the situation and relationship of the speaker with the deceased:

I am (so) sorry to hear that.

I am (so) sorry for your loss.

Sorry to hear that.


I agree that "OK" does not express the right tone for bad news. As an all-purpose way to acknowledge a statement without agreeing with it, you could say I see.

Leaving off the "K" could work to indicate mild shock or disbelief.

"Your friend died last night."



There are some cases where OK is used after bad news - generally because you want to shift the focus away from the news and talk about something else or look at it a different way, however to do so after a death is generally inappropriate, as it can be taken as a lack of interest or respect.

"We lost the game"
"OK, what can we do to improve?"

In your scenario however, I wouldn't use Okay

Yes Maulik, it's confirmed. 'X' is dead ~ Okay

"Roger" or "Copy that" seems to be more suitable, especially considering the use of "confirmed".

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