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 .... Dec 3 '13 at 6:41
  • 3
    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
    Dec 3 '13 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
    Dec 4 '17 at 16:37

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".

  • 1
    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
    Dec 4 '13 at 5:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.