When to use "ask" and when to use "request"
A student of mine asked the following question "When do you use the verb 'ask' and when do you use the verb 'request'?"
I gave my simple answer, then I found this explanation in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
I was so impressed by this explanation, I decided to share it with you.
The verbs ask and request are close in meaning, but there are important differences in their use.
Let's start with their meanings.
The two main meanings of ask are
1) To request/ask for a response to a question, as in these examples:
- We asked him about his mother.
- He asked if I had seen the movie.
- Did you ask her yet?
- It's not polite to ask how much a person weighs.
2) To request something more than just an answer, such as directions, food, or help, as in these examples:
- If you need something, just ask for it.
- Let's stop and ask directions.
- I'll have to ask for permission to leave.
- She ate all of her food and asked for more.
- You should ask your teacher for help.
- She asked me not to say anything about it to anyone.
The meaning of request is similar to the second meaning of ask above. In fact, request can be substituted for "ask/ask for" in many of the "ask" sentence examples shown above.
- If you need something, just ask for it / just request it.
- Let's stop and ask directions / ask for directions / request directions.
However, request does not share the first meaning of ask shown above: to request a response to a question.
formality and politeness
Ask is used approximately 3 times more often than request.
It's important to be aware that, in addition to this difference in meaning, request is a much more formal and polite word than ask, and it is used less often. It is more common to use ask, except in formal, polite language, such as the examples below:
- To request a catalogue of our products, please access our website.
- The governor will request that the legislature raise taxes.
- You are hereby requested not to applaud during the performance.
Feel free to ask a question or request additional information and I'll do my best to respond.