Inflecting OK

By Maeve Maddox

A reader stumbled on the word OKing in the following:

Owners of eight rooftop clubs abutting Wrigley Field sued to overturn city approval of the $375 million plan to rebuild the aging ballpark, saying the city broke its own rules in OKing the plan and effectively deprived them of their property rights without due process.

After a moment, the reader figured out that OKing was the present participle inflection of OK.

NOTE: an inflection is a variation in the spelling of a word to indicate a change in case, gender, number, tense, person, mood, voice, or comparison. OK is inflected as both a noun and a verb.

As a noun, OK is used in the plural as well as in the singular. As a verb, it is inflected to show person, number, and tense.

A glance at usage in various publications quickly shows disagreement as to how to spell and inflect this indispensable word:

Noun:
Judge gives her preliminary OK
Is it Okay for My Cat to Have Milk?
Get the estimates, then notify the receivers for their OKs.
We soon had inspectors come and give the house all of their ok’s and ratings.

Verb (Past Tense):
Highlights of gun bill OK’d by Massachusetts House 
Bill delaying plans to move disabled from institutions OKed by NJ Assembly
Cyber Bill okayed by US Senate committee; faces uphill struggle

Verb (Present Participle):
U.S. heading toward OKing more ‘Roundup-Ready’ genetically engineered farm acreage
EPA rules on sulfur in gasoline, okaying guns in Indiana school parking lots

What help do the authorities offer?

The Chicago Manual of Style does not include a rule in any of its numbered sections for spelling or inflecting OK, but it does use the spelling OK in some of its examples. And in its question and answer feature, an editor declares that okay is a standard “equal variant” of OK.

Three of my dictionaries–the OED, Merriam-Webster (M-W), and the Australian Concise Oxford (OA)–show OK as the preferred spelling and okay as an acceptable alternative. My Oxford Canadian Current English (OCC) gives okay as the main entry and OK as an alternative spelling.

Here is their take on the inflections of OK as a verb:

OED: Present participle OK’ing or OKing; past tense and past participle OK’ed, OK-ed, OKed.

M-W: OK’d or okayed; OK’d or okayed; OK’ing or okaying; OK’s or okays

OA: OK’s, OK’d, OK’ing

OCC: okays or OK’s, okayed or OK’d, okaying or OK’ing

Finally, The AP Stylebook does not mess about with alternatives. Here’s the AP rule on inflections for the verb OK:

OK, OK’d, OK’ing, OKs. Do not use okay.

Bottom line: If you have a stylebook, follow it. If you have a choice, choose the inflected forms that make the most sense to you. Having made your choice, be consistent.

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16 Responses to “Inflecting OK”

  • Bernadette

    What is the difference between OKing and approving? Seems to me that OKing would be reserved more for informal writing and one could find a better word in formal writing…but that’s just me.

  • thebluebird11

    I’m with the AP Style Book. I dislike “okay,” since it is my impression that the word is an acronym. Also, it uses 4 letters instead of 2 to say the same thing, and since the idea of the word “OK” is to be brief, stretching it to 4 letters defeats the purpose and is longer than the word “yes.”
    My company style guide makes us use “okay” in our professional work, but in my own work I use “OK.” I would have done a double-take if I had seen OKing somewhere, and read it as “oh-king.” It definitely needs an apostrophe, no matter how it’s inflected. The only time I would grudgingly agree to use the longer version is if one can’t use an apostrophe; then okayed, okaying would be OK, in a pinch, maybe. Because at that point, “approving” (or other synonyms) would be almost as long and probably nicer.

  • Danny

    I agree with Bernadette but take it a step further. OK (and all its inflected forms) is grand for informal SPEECH, but using it even in informal writing is just plain sloppy.

  • thebluebird11

    I disagree with Danny. This word (or expression) has been around for probably almost 200 years, and I don’t see anything wrong with it in informal speech or writing. There are, however, plenty of other words suited for formal speech or writing. Nevertheless, I would not blink an eye if our president were giving a speech and used the word “OK,” and I don’t think anyone else would either. I also have no problem when it is used to save space (such as in newspaper headlines), even if one considers newspapers “formal” writing.

  • Danny

    The age of a word or expression has little to do with its suitability for particular uses. “Shit” and “ain’t” come to mind. In addition, I believe that using “OK” as a verb is sloppy in any instance. I don’t necessarily have a problem with people being sloppy, but I would blink an eye if our president were giving a speech and said, for example, “I have OKed the use of force to …”

  • thebluebird11

    OK, maybe I don’t get out enough, but if he said “I have OK’d the use of force,” I would not blink either eye. I doubt he would say that (at least, not in a prepared speech, where his writers would probably have used “approved,” “sanctioned,” or some other word), but in an off-the-cuff remark, he might reflexively use it, because it is so pervasively used, and has been, as I said, for quite some time. I tried using Ngram to compare the number of times “OK” pops up vs your examples of words that shouldn’t be used, but I guess I am technologically impaired and couldn’t figure out how it works, so I can’t rebut your assertion that “OK” is perceived as unsuitable as your other examples.

  • Curtis

    “OKing, live forever!”

    “We’re stopping in Tulsa, OK?”

    Generally, I spell it out to avoid confusion. A lot of those forms make me stop and back up.

  • venqax

    I am quite surprised. One, I wouldn’t think OK in any form would be considered anything more than very informal, so I’m surprised that the style guides actually specify how to write it in any form as opposed to just saying don’t use it. Second, I am even more surprised- baffled really– than any guide would actually prefer OK to okay, and even ban the latter. I know it was an abbreviation (though for what no one really seems to know) but it has been in the language long enough to have grown into a word. And that word would probably be spelled o-k-a-y. I still wouldn’t use OK in anything formal or recommend it to anyone else.

    Noting that there are other words that could be used to convey the same meaning is beside the point. The question is how and when to write OK/okay.

  • Dale A Wood

    O.K. means “Old Kinderhook”, which was a nickname for President Martin Van Buren. Historians have come to a firm decision on this, rather recently.

  • Dale A Wood

    Van Burden was born and raised in Kinderhook. N.Y. , and his native tongue was Dutch.

  • Dale A Wood

    Van Burden was born and raised in Kinderhook, N.Y., where everyone spoke Dutch.

  • Dale A Wood

    Silly thing will not spell words the way that we tell it to. Ugh.

  • Dale A Wood

    The American spelling is actually O.K., with the periods. Van Buren was actually the first President who was born in the U.S.A., since he was born in 1790.
    Foreigners omit the periods, and in fact, the British do not like Mr. Mrs. Dr. Ave. St. Blvd. Ms. Sr. Jr.

  • Dale A Wood

    The British do not like Sr. = senor, Sra. = senora, Fr. = father, Gov. = governor, Pres. = president, Lt. = lieutenant, Lt. Gov., etc.
    In Canada, each province has a Lt. Gov., and the whole country has a Governor General who has few or no powers.

  • Oliver Lawrence

    New Hart’s Rules says to use the apostrophe: OK’d, KO’ing, OD’d, etc. On balance, that seems to be the consensus, unless your style guide says otherwise.

  • Dale A Wood

    OInteresting: Both O.K.’ing and K.O.’ing exist, because the latter means “knocking out”.

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