Look at this example:

"Did you fix the loose door at home?

"No, I didn't have time. But don't worry, I asked a servant to fix it."

The word ask has several meanings as I read in dictionaries. In most definitions, it's request or demand. Nevertheless, in the above-mentioned case, it's an order (to the servant). Is the word 'ask' used correctly here? Or does told him work better?

If asked is a polite way to demand/request something, what if someone made a blunder and you were telling (asking?) them to correct it in frustration, how would you say that?

Yes sir, it was a blunder and I'm sorry for the loss. I asked/told Tim to correct it earliest. (Note: No request needed).

This also raises the question in my mind: Ask Vs. told! when you demand (not request) something.

  • 1
    In my first language, the use of ask vs. tell (someone to do something) is virtually identical to the English's usage, as far as I can tell. In my own usage, ask literally means make a request, and tell literally means say something. Both terms can be used for giving an order in a polite way, so that the sense of ordering will be toned down. From the strongest to weakest among these verbs, I will use I ordered you ..., I told you ..., and I asked you .... Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 6:41
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    Ask always literally means request, however politeness often dictates that an order is posed as a request. You may ask someone to do something to be polite when you both know full well that it really isn't optional.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 6:41
  • It's surprising that any dictionary would define 'ask' as 'demand' - i have never known there to be any similarity in attitude between the words themselves (despite what has been accurately relayed about conventional politeness in conveying 'orders').
    – N. Presley
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 16:37

1 Answer 1


This usage is slightly atypical - because asking is requesting something politely (as others mentioned, not always making it optional, but still politely nevertheless!) and in your case it appears saying "I asked a servant" instead of "I told a servant to..." or "I got a servant to..." puts a small emphasis on the speaker's politeness - and this, in the rules of perfect savoir-vivre might be seen as a bit boastful (about own humility of asking, instead of just requesting.) Never mind that the well-behaved person definitely would ask the servant to do this - they wouldn't talk about themselves asking.

So, yes - as long as the request isn't phrased as a direct (rude/strict) order, no matter if it is a defacto order or not, calling it asking is right. But unless you want to emphasize that you were specifically asking someone, as opposed to making an order-type request in general, when talking about yourself you'll avoid using "I asked..."

...obviously with exception of when you asked a question, expecting an answer: "I asked him what time it was".

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    My parents would routinely reprimand me by saying things like: "I asked you to take out the garbage an hour ago! Why is it still here?"
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 5:11

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