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Grammatically, do we put a comma or period after the phrases / words like "no problem", "sure", "okay", and the like, when responding to a request, or there is no grammatical rule and this is purely a style preference?

What syntactic role do these words play? Are these independent clauses, stand-alone minor sentences, or sentence substitutes (therefore, requiring a period / full-stop). Or interjections, discourse markets, speech tags, word substitutes, or particles (therefore, requiring a comma)?

Can these words play different roles in different situations and hence require different punctuation?

There seems to be contradictory examples from various websites and style guides calling these words discourse markers, interjections, formulaic expressions and pro sentences.

And even a style guide / advice (below) that always mandates periods after all of these words.

Margie Wakeman Wells: Court Reporting Resource, Books and Seminars on Good Grammar and Punctuation

Okay is one of those words that peppers the speech patterns of many people. Here is the scoop on okay.

If it comes at the beginning of a sentence, follow it with a period. It stands by itself and is not attached to anything around it.

I presume this advice only applies to free-standing "okay" and "no problem" and not when they substitute "yes"?

I would imagine that punctuation should reflect grammatical function? (Sentence substitutes should take period; interjections, word substitutes, particlesa should take commas after them.)

For example in the sentence below, would the word "okay" take comma or period?

-- Will you help me?

-- Okay (./,) I will.

Could I argue that "okay" takes comma if it stands for "yes" and period if stands for elliptical sentence "that's okay"?

What about "no problem" in the same construction?

-- Will you help me?

-- No problem(./,) I will.

Could I argue that "no problem" takes comma if it stands for "yes" and period if stands for elliptical sentence "that's not a problem"?

I am primarily interested in grammatical position (defining these words as independent constructions / clauses, requiring period, or as particles, requiring comma).

Would comma construction technically render a comma splice as it would be if the same words would be changed for "don't worry"?

-- Will you help me?

-- Don't worry, I will. (Comma splice.)

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    these words are never used in formal writing; they occur primarily (if not exclusively) in speech and writing that imitates speech. hence, i'd think whether a comma or period should be used would depend on the pause between these words and what follows. (but this is a great question, and i'm eager to see whether someone has a better answer than mine.) – dbliss Jun 10 '15 at 18:08
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    @dbliss has it right. These are all conversational English. That is, one hears them; if one is recording speech in writing, one uses commas where one hears them, ditto periods and other full stops. If one doesn't hear them, one shouldn't be recording speech in writing. – John Lawler Jun 10 '15 at 19:50
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    First, "Formal" and "informal" are very imprecise terms, and they're social, not linguistic. Second, writing is just a representation of speech, not its source. Third, there is no set of punctuation rules, anyway, and if there were, it wouldnt be part of grammar, but spelling. You may have noticed that people punctuate any way they please. This is because punctuation rules are all arbitrary -- especially inaudible punctuation like apostrophe's that make distinctions not present in the language itself. – John Lawler Jun 10 '15 at 20:58
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    @PaulS.: Chicago or AP standards of punctuation are examples of arbitrary rules that exist to confuse people; they are not grammar. To repeat, English punctuation or spelling is not part of grammar, so "grammatically punctuated" is a misnomer; one might as well ask whether something is "morally punctuated". – John Lawler Jun 11 '15 at 15:02
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    @PaulS. The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from, all different, all contradictory, all arbitrary, all useless. "Standards" like you quote are usually more or less safe workarounds that teachers feel good passing on; but they're never general enough, and they almost always seize on precisely the wrong feature to pay attention to -- like what word or what kind of word a comma is sposta go before or after, when comma placement is simply not determined by anything like that, but by sound, like a/an. It isn't their fault; nobody taught them better. – John Lawler Jun 11 '15 at 23:10
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In this case, "okay" is being used as an interjection, and should therefore be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma for a short pause and a period for a longer one. For interjections, one can choose among a comma, period, and exclamation point. "Don't worry" and "no problem" are also being used, in this case, as interjections, so commas can work.

Personally, I'd use a comma for a very short pause, a semicolon for a longer one, and a period for a significant pause.

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Consider the following sentences:

"OK, we're all going to the store today," mom informed us.

"OK: we're all going to the store today," mom informed us.

"OK. We're all going to the store today," mom informed us.

"OK; we're all going to the store today," mom informed us.

"OK--we're all going to the store today," mom informed us.

"OK! We're all going to the store today!" mom informed us."

"We're going to the store today, OK?"

Did you read the first 5 sentences the same way? This is why they're called style guides rather than grammar textbooks, but it doesn't take away the importance of having it read the way you want it to read.

  • Thanks for the response. You definitely read them differently, but so you also read "Don't worry. I will" and "Don't worry, I will". But the latter is not grammatical. Grammatical punctuation, based on what I have learned, is not concerned with rhetoric but with structure. Hence, I am trying to look at this from word function / structure point of view. – Paul S. Jan 17 '16 at 19:46

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