Cultural Musings

The difference between “ok” in Polish and English

Ok. Just a tiny little word made up of two letters. Seems simple, right? It’s not. Not if you’re an American living in Poland. Ok – the adjective meaning “good”, not “ok” as in agreement – has a different meaning in English than you think it might. Let’s discuss.

So let’s take a situation I had recently. Our neighbor came over to babysit our kids. She’s 12 and she speaks English at home with her parents, so we speak English together. Anyway, when we got back in the evening and I asked her how it went she said “it was ok”. Hm… and that’s where the confusion started for me. Does she mean the Polish “ok” or the English “ok”? So I asked multiple times and each time got the same answer. In that case, I really wasn’t sure what she meant and here’s why.

In Polish, “ok” means “good”, “fine” – something positive. It is a positive adjective. So if Polish people use their word you know that it was truly ok 🙂

In English, “ok” means “not great”, “not very good”. So if I ask you “how was the movie?” and you say “it was ok”, I know it wasn’t that good, just so-so. This is because English-speaking people actually tend to use other, more expressive adjectives if something was “good”. So they’ll say “the movie was amazing”, for instance, to express that it was a positive experience. Words like “good”, “fine,” or “ok” can sometimes tell us that it wasn’t actually as good as we had hoped, but certainly this depends on the delivery.

So, based on this, you can imagine what it’s like in a Polish-American household when you ask questions like “so, how did you like the dinner I cooked?” or “how do you think I look in this?” and the answer is “ok” and then everything goes to shit 🙂


“Just ok?”
-“Yeah, ok.”
“Well, thanks a lot.”
-“I don’t understand…”

Fun stuff.

I think that now, finally, my husband understands what “ok” means after many similar tiffs. And typically I’ll just ask “English ok or Polish ok?” and then it’s all clear 🙂

Going back to our first example with the babysitter, I found out later from talking to her mom that it was overall good, but that she was really tired after, so I guess she meant the English “ok” 🙂 Smart girl.

So, the lesson is, if you’re not sure what to use, use a different adjective!

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10 Comments

  • Reply Piotr 12 August 2022 at 21:58

    Well, cultural differences may be really confusing and amusing a the same time. While reading your latest post I remembered some informal sentence that I saw on some forum. Someone wrote `She was okish`. While reading this, I understood that he or she didn`t mean `She was very good`. It rather sounded like `She wan`t bad but she definitely could do better` Same case as yours, right? By the way, the dialogue really made me smile. No laugh cause this is funny and a bit sad-like comedy drama. Somebody has really tried to dress up or cook a tasty meal and no positive feedback (in someone`s view)? Misunderstandings seem really weird sometimes.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 13 August 2022 at 21:16

      Yeah I mean I’m mostly joking about those things because I know what my husband means when he says “ok”. Being with someone from another country means there are a lot of miscommunications, which are mostly just kind of funny and you have to be easy going about. Also, though, this little things are what make being with someone from a different country exciting and unique. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

  • Reply Ola 15 August 2022 at 16:34

    I haven’t know that “Polish” “ok” means something else than “English”. I think word “ok” is overused by Polish people. We use this as an agreement but also to say that something is really good. For me we overuse not only this word…another word is “exactly” – “dokładnie” . I mean Polish people took this to Polish language and overuse it. It would be better use words like: “właśnie”, “tak jest”, “rzeczywiście”. But maybe I am nitpicky 🤦😀

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 16 August 2022 at 08:46

      Ola – for sure there are plenty of “overused” words, but it gets annoying when they are words that are kind of borrowed from other languages I suppose.

  • Reply Krzysiek 17 August 2022 at 19:59

    I’m under impression it’s not about the meaning in English as such. The expressiveness you mentioned – isn’t it an American thing? I talked with people from different countries (also English-speaking) and no one was ever as confused with me saying “ok”, “fine”, “sure” etc as an American 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 17 August 2022 at 20:21

      Perhaps. I can only say what it means from my perspective 😉

  • Reply Piotr 29 August 2022 at 14:32

    I think it is not the matter of the language itself, but it is about the culture.
    We are working with clients from the UK and we are taught that the client never complains. They would always say everything is good about the the things we have presented them, therefore it is our task to infer from their vocabulary, if they are really glad. They should say something like “amazing”, “brilliant”, otherwise it means they are not happy. “Not bad” would mean the things have got terrible.
    And no, this is not American thing. I would say the opposite: this is very British.

  • Reply zkn 3 September 2022 at 15:40

    So throwing in ,,okayish” would complicate matters even more. I think it would mean ,,almost acceptable” then

  • Reply Andrew 28 September 2022 at 18:31

    As a Polish person, I’d say that it all depends on the context. But I’m actually leaning towards the “English” meaning of “OK” when used by Polish people, and here’s why. When a Pole wants to say that something was really good, they’ll rather say: It was really OK (to było naprawdę OK). When we say that something “was OK”, we usually mean that the thing was neither bad nor extraordinary – it was rather satisfactory, bearable, but not excessively pleasing 😀
    It was just OK 🙂 

    In summary – the Polish OK is something positive, but just barely above the “mediocre” line 😉

    Fantastic blog by the way!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 29 September 2022 at 09:00

      Huh so you think it’s basically the same meaning? That’s really interesting because I didn’t realise that. Thanks for the info 🙂

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