"The ask is that you provide me with..."

I started hearing "ask" being used as a noun a few years ago. Is this a recent trend? Is it an East Coast thing, unique to North America, or just unique to the in-house vocabulary of telecommunications companies?

  • 7
    I might be imagining it, but I think I'm hearing this more and more...
    – ukayer
    Feb 10, 2012 at 5:26
  • "more and more"? it's completely commonplace. Yours for the asking. A big ask. As per your asking. And so on. As well as the concepts here .. english.stackexchange.com/questions/265986/…
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 19:03
  • 1
    @JoeBlow "yours for the asking" means you just have to ask for it and it can be yours. I agree this usage is commonplace, but it not what I'm asking about here. My "ask" is whether or not ask can ever be used as a noun. It just sounds wrong. Why not say "my question is whether or not...". It does seem that ask/question are often used to mean the same thing when "to ask" is clearly a verb and "question" is clearly a noun.
    – ukayer
    Oct 28, 2015 at 21:09
  • I first became aware of using the word 'ask' as a noun in political advocacy. The usage is typical and common in US political advocacy.
    – Maxipoo
    Jan 20, 2017 at 15:14
  • Yes. I think the following is correct:"The bid is 17. What's the ask?"
    – Airymouse
    Jan 20, 2017 at 21:07

8 Answers 8


Living in Europe, I have never encountered the usage myself, and neither Merriam-Webster nor Wiktionary even mention the mere possibility of "ask" being used as a noun.

That being said, Raymond Chen, a senior Microsoft programmer (Redmond, WA), blogged about the noun ask on January 7th, 2004, saying that it had gained momentum in the year before:

Ask (as a noun)

This has taken over Microsoft-speak in the past year or so and it drives me batty. "What are our key asks here?", you might hear in a meeting. Language tip: The thing you are asking for is called a "request". Plus, of course, the thing that is an "ask" is usually more of a "demand" or "requirement". But those are such unfriendly words, aren't they? Why not use a warm, fuzzy word like "ask" to take the edge off?

Answer: Because it's not a word.

I have yet to find any dictionary which sanctions this usage. Indeed, the only definition for "ask" as a noun is A water newt [Scot. & North of Eng.], and that was from 1913!

Answer 2: Because it's passive-aggressive.

These "asks" are really "demands". So don't guilt-trip me with "Oh, you didn't meet our ask. We had to cut half our features. But that's okay. We'll just suffer quietly, you go do your thing, don't mind us."

If we stop right here, whether you subscribe to Mr. Chen's prescriptive approach or prefer to just let languages evolve, your suspicions seem to be confirmed to some extent (rather recent trend, technology company, though not exactly East Coast).

However, digging deeper, here is a Language Log post from August 7th, 2004 (the plot thickens). And finally, the excellent follow-up from July 10th, 2008 (the plot takes an unexpected U-turn):

I opined that the noun ask was likely to be venerable, probably going back to Old English. And so it is and does, but the full story is more interesting than a simple survival of a lexical item from a millennium ago.

[...] A natural innovation in Old English would have been to create a noun directly from the verb ask (or its pre-OE forebear); that would have been a useful thing to have, and so it happened. Yes, a nouning of a verb. [...] The crucial point here is that the noun request wasn't around then. According to the OED, it appeared in Middle English, in the 14th century (when borrowings from Old French began swarming into the language), and, about 200 years later, we got the verb request (a verbing, either in English or in Old French, it's hard to tell). So a noun ask was a good thing to have while we were waiting for the French-based request to arrive.

The OED has three early cites, between roughly 1000 and 1230, and then a huge gap until these two cites:

1781 T. TWINING Let. 8 Dec. in Recreat. & Stud. (1882) 108, I am not so unreasonable as to desire you to..answer all my asks.

1886 ‘CAVENDISH’ Whist 127 When your three comes down in the next round, it is not an ask for trumps.

That post is chock-full of such revelations, which boil down to:

[The] noun ask seems to have been innovated on a number of different occasions.

Of which the current technology-company speak is just one. Highly recommended reading.

  • 3
    agh the language! it is evolving before my very eyes!
    – Claudiu
    Oct 21, 2010 at 17:47
  • 1
    @Claudiu: you might be interested in other posts by Raymond Chen tagged "Microspeak". Quite a few interesting developments there.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 21, 2010 at 17:59
  • 7
    I don't care how old the usage is, 'ask' as a noun is just... wrong. :)
    – Marthaª
    Oct 21, 2010 at 18:49
  • 1
    @Martha: that's exactly the immediate reaction I had when I first encountered "I will" instead of "I shall", "center" instead of "centre", and "have got" instead of "have gotten". We are all victims of our environments.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 21, 2010 at 18:54
  • 4
    I'm with Raymond on this one. While language evolution might explain how it could come into use, the real problem is the context where it has recently come back: The minefield of passive aggressiveness that is negotiations between middle managers in giant companies, fighting over who will deliver what (all the while considering how "the ask" will impact their CYA strategy). Yuck.
    – Jeff Allen
    Jan 22, 2013 at 13:21

It's also used fairly commonly in sports situations, especially cricket commentary.

For example: "England need 200 more to win — that's a big ask".

  • Indeed - I'd say ask as a noun can mean an instance of asking.
    – Jez
    Jan 22, 2013 at 13:38
  • UK sports for sure, I've never heard it in a US context.
    – ohmi
    Jan 22, 2013 at 23:14

The NOAD reports that ask is also a noun:

noun [in singular]
1. a request, especially for a donation: an ask for more funding.
2. the price at which an item, especially a financial security, is offered for sale: [as adjective] ask prices for bonds.

  • I'd expect asking prices for bonds in U.S. writing. To hear ask prices doesn't sound right to me.
    – kettlecrab
    Jul 14, 2018 at 7:06

I have only noticed this usage of "ask" recently, perhaps in only the last few years. I have noticed it mostly in a political and business context, which appears to have started spreading to other broadcast domains, like sports. I have no idea where nor why it has started (or restarted, as some suggest).

On the one hand, it sounds horrible to most of our ears, since we have become so accustomed to hearing "request" as the noun. In spite of this, I can see two benefits to "ask" as a noun:

  1. By using the same word for verb and noun, more non-native English speakers will understand us, which one might debate as a benefit, but which I believe benefits the world as a whole

  2. It rejects a French/Latinate form in favor of an Anglo-Saxon one, which one might also debate as a benefit, but which the linguistic purists would love.

The first time I heard it, I felt a tinge of Orwellian "Politics and the English Language" effect, but upon reflection, I don't think using "ask" as both verb and noun qualifies as a dumbing-down of the language, but rather as a useful simplification of it. Remember that "access" used not to be commonly used as a verb (one would "gain access to" something), and yet it sounds perfectly commonplace to us now.


Seems to be the standard wording regarding asking for money in as in fundraising or investment.

Some of more prominent examples of use:


I hear this every morning on our weekly team sales call and I refuse to succumb to improper use of the word. "The big ask", "my ask", my manager even had the audacity of positioning a team discussion called "your big ask" - I didn't know whether to take exception to him suggesting I needed to go on a diet or send him back to grammar school.

  • If you're saying that the use of 'ask' as a noun is 'improper', and are using the 'rules' you were taught at grammar school as the authority to make this claim, please be aware that ELU prefers more concrete (and often more rational) authority. NOAD and OED allow the usage, as mentioned above. So does Collins, idiomatically. Perhaps your old teachers need to go back to school (or perhaps they're teaching the modern stance now). Apr 6, 2015 at 14:25

In the order book for any given security on the stock market, what you might call the current highest "offered price" is called the bid, and the current lowest offered sell price is called the ask. Sort of a slightly more precise version of the idea of the "going rate".

Also ask can mean the price on any given sell order. Bid can mean the price on any given buy order.

Irrelevant but the difference between the two is called the spread.


First, expressions like yours for the asking and even asking price are perfectly correct; ask is used in both as a verb. Second, the use of ask as a noun seems to have originated in the financial markets and spread through popular media to the masses. As with many such short verb-nouns there could be a Chinese influence in play. In that language, qǐngqiú (请求) may be used as a noun or a verb, not unlike the English word request. The various verbs for ask readily form compounds with nouns. I see this usage as more of a lazy speaker's way of communicating than a real innovation.

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