Is there a word to define the verbal strategy that requests action of someone without using a direct command—e.g., Could you please open the door?

3 Answers 3


Steven Pinker calls it off-record indirect speech acts...

the given or made in confidence and not for publication comments (in contrast to on the record)

Indirect speech
the phenomenon in which a speaker says something he doesn’t literally mean, knowing that the hearer will interpret it as he intended.

Note that Pinker's definition of indirect speech as quoted there isn't the same as the more well-known reported speech one. But if you Google "indirect speech act" it's obvious in that particular collocation Pinker's meaning is invariably what's meant.

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    See Wikipedia on Politeness Theory for off-record terminology. There are several technical terms that fall within the scope of the question, but "indirect speech" is part of all of them. Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 22:57
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    @John: I knew I'd actually heard/seen Pinker talking about this a few years ago (next to you, he's my biggest linguistics hero! :). I specifically remembered him using the example of "Could you pass the salt?", and sure enough, a Google search with judiciously-chosen terms turned up this interview. I'd forgotten how eloquently he strips bare the way such devices define/alter/announce relationships between speakers - either more or less subtly, according to who those speakers are, and how "careful" they're being. Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 23:12
  • What does off-record have to do with it? Edit: I see the wikipedia article equates off-record speech with indirect speech, but your definition of off-record in the question doesn't seem to have anything to do with this meaning.
    – user545424
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 3:25
  • @user545424: What's not clear? I quoted Pinker's definition - which as John implies, is the one relevant to speech acts as under consideration here. I just mentioned that in some other contexts indirect speech is a synonym for reported speech or indirect discourse (probably not so much in more recent academic contexts, since grammarians and language teachers will largely have ceded that terminology to linguists). Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 3:34
  • I see the paper's title but can't find that definition for off-the-record anywhere in the paper; I don't see what "made in confidence and not for publication" has to do with it. I think you nailed the term, but I'm wondering why you have that particular definition in your answer.
    – user545424
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 3:44

The term cajole is defined as

to try to persuade someone to do something by saying things that please the person or make the person feel important

It is also defined as

to obtain from someone by gentle persuasion


Although the AHDEL doesn't license the word request in this usage

re·quest (r-kwst) tr.v. re·quest·ed, re·quest·ing, re·quests

  1. To express a desire for; ask for.

... is as near as it gets ...

...Collins does:

request [rɪˈkwɛst] vb (tr) to express a desire for, esp politely; ask for or demand [bolding mine]

Certainly, the expression

Could you please open the door?

contains two hedging devices, and

Could you please just open the door?


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