Word Choice – Overblown Language

Candice’s question: “In my office, several people are now saying and writing ‘My ask of you is…’ when they are requesting action. Is this correct?  It seems to me it should be “May I ask you to…?”

BizWritingTip response: Wow! This statement is funny and is also wrong in many ways. First, it comes across as pretentious and convoluted. It is definitely not speech I would expect from an office professional of this century.

Second, the phrase is grammatically incorrect. The word “ask” is a verb. But the user has changed it to a noun. I know new words are constantly creeping into the language, but I would wait until you see them in the dictionary.

Third, today’s plain language writing requirements encourage a focus on the receiver rather than on the sender. By starting with “my ask,” the speaker/writer is placing him or herself before the receiver. Bad idea!

“May I ask you to …” is a little better but is still formal and the focus remains with the speaker/writer. In addition, you are requesting the reader’s permission to ask them to do something. What if they said, “No. You don’t have my permission to ask me”? It’s not likely, but it is possible.

I suggest you try something more direct, such as “Would you please …” or what about just saying “Please do xxx.” To make it less curt, you could precede or follow the request with “why” you need them to do it.

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