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Isn't kindness already implied when you say "I request you to..."?

When I say "I humbly request you to...", the word humbly helps me to label the state of my behavior during the request.

On the other hand, what value does the word kindly add to the request?

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Grammar

Grammatically speaking, no, it is not correct, because in the language I grew up speaking — Twentieth Century American English of the Inland North variety of southern Wisconsin — you cannot write:

  • *I request you to do something.
  • *I requested him to be here.

You must write:

  • I request that you do something.
  • I requested that he be here.

Or much more likely:

  • I asked you to do something.
  • I asked him to be here.

Because request is one of those verbs that wants the other kind of construct, the one with that and a clause, not the one with a to-infinitive the way ask is. These are not always interchangeable; it depends on the verb that governs them.

Note that you can request NPs just fine; it is VPs where you must be careful.

  • I requested his presence.

On Idiolectology

In my language, ask and request are different in what they accept as a complement. You cannot “request” someone “to” do anything; you can only ask them to do it.

See how that works?

While this restriction is not something universally applied by people long ago and far away, the ungrammaticality within the lect of standard American English as described above remains. The other form sounds foreign, as from a non-native learner of English who learned it from someone who didn't know English very well, or perhaps from reading dusty old books from authors several centuries dead.

In other words, it just isn't said or written there now. Remember that “ungrammatical” just means that it sounds wrong to the native speaker making that pronouncement, just as “grammatical” means that it sounds ok to them. There are also acceptability gradients between those.

What you won’t be able to do “prove” that something is “correct” or that it “not incorrect”. All you can do is document use and non-use, acceptability and unacceptability.

No one I grew up with, whether friends or family or colleagues, ever puts things together like this. It sounds “funny” to me, something I could not say and cannot say. That’s why it’s ungrammatical to me.

Ngram data

Here’s some supporting documentation for that use and non-use, courtesy of Google Ngrams:

ngram of dying usage

As you see, the request you to style peaked in 1830 and has dwindled to nearly nothing since then. By the time something gets that rare, it’s bound to seem ungrammatical to people hearing or reading it, since they virtually never do so.

The UK version shows the same general trend, but with differing final results:

uk version

The fancy formal "subjunctive" version has not outpaced the older version in UK usage the way it has in American use. This may be because UK use of the "mandative subjunctive" (also known as the uninflected bare infinitive or the "modally marked" form) is quite a bit less common than the US use of that type of construction.

Politesse

As for politeness, we don’t really do much in the way of etiquette questions here. However, things like

  • We kindly request. . . .
  • We politely request. . . .
  • We humbly request. . . .
  • We respectfully request. . . .
  • We earnestly request. . . .

are all frequently seen in formal invitations and such. They are in the “expected” format. As with all language of courtesy, you should not get too worked up over what each word literally means in these frozen, fossilized forms. They have become formulaic, so it is “what people do” on such occasions.

Note that another old formula:

  • We request and require. . . .

is something different; it is in fact a demand, and sometimes a command.

  • 3
    The last one appears in British passports. – Andrew Leach Dec 31 '12 at 14:59
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    Kindly is out of place here: kindness should be imputed to the addressee, not the addressor. – StoneyB Dec 31 '12 at 15:43
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    This is a different and fairly widely-used usage, as tchrist says in his answer. Indeed, in 'would you kindly just give up your seat for my great-grandmother', kindly and just are two of the hedging devices (pragmatic markers subset politeness) (the third device is the would you construction) (and the fourth, the winning smile). Kindly (which some insist is still adverbial here!) is here a near-synonym of please. In the original example, kindly is accepted as being transferred (cf restless night, contemplative cigarette). Though I agree, very transferred. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 31 '12 at 15:59
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    I don't accept the strictures you place on request. In Google Books, I request you to has been consistently more common than I request that you. I'm not aware of any principle apart from your own personal preference that distinguishes between the two. – FumbleFingers Dec 31 '12 at 18:59
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    @tchrist: Well, we're both perfectly competent speakers, so I'm certainly not trying to say that you should alter your own concept of what is or is not "grammatical" (whatever that means). What I mean is I do not accept/require the same limitations you place on constructions involving request. And as my link shows, nor do lots of others. You're surely not suggesting there's an "absolute" issue of grammaticality involved here, and that only your perspective is "correct". I do not suggest the converse, I assure you. – FumbleFingers Dec 31 '12 at 19:30
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One of the OED’s definitions of kindly is ‘With natural affection, affectionately, lovingly; with sympathy, benevolence, or good nature.’ There is nothing at all wrong either grammatically or socially in making a request in such a civilised manner.

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I want to comment on the grammaticality of:

•*I request you to do something.

Something hotly debated by tchrist, FumbleFingers, RegDwight and others above.

I agree with tchrist, this is not an acceptable grammatical form.

The reason for this, I think, is because request is not a catenative verb, i.e., it can't be followed with an infinitive (even separated by the pronoun "you") unless it is in the passive form. So while RegDwight above is correct in saying that

"The letter requested him to report to London immediately."

is correct, it would not be correct to say:

"The letter requests you to report to London immediately".

The first iteration (from OED) is only correct because request appears in a passive construction.

As reference, I provide: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:English_catenative_verbs

I see this incorrect use of request constantly working as a legal editor at a major Japanese law firm (e.g., "We request you to sign the document immediately") - invariably, I change it to "We ask you" (since to ask is catenative) or "We request that you sign the document immediately".

  • -1 I think you've misunderstood the restriction in the Wiktionary article. If the object separates "request" and the "to infinitive", the structure is not concatenative: "Concatenative verbs are verbs which can be followed directly by another verb" is what Wiktionary says. If "The letter requested him to report to London immediately", then "The letter requests you to report to London immediately" is also correct because the only difference is tense: neither illustrates concatenation because the two verbs are separated by the object in both sentences. I suggest that you delete this answer. – user21497 Feb 18 '13 at 9:01
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for me the sentwence is wrong. It is not the same to humbly request than to kindly request... what has kindness to do with it?

It is for the "requested" to be kind, not to the "requester".

Hence, the correct version would be: I request you to kindly do something or I request that you kindly do something...

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There are two issues here: the grammaticality of the construction 'request someone to do something' and the appropriacy of the adverb 'kindly' in this context. As to the first question, the New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) has as one of its examples for the use of 'request':

The letter requested him to report to London immediately.

So that is strong support for the grammaticality of the expression. As to the use of 'kindly', this seems to revolve around who is supposed to be 'kind'. In this phrase it is the speaker ('I kindly...') whereas one would think that the intention is to request the kindness of the hearer as in 'Would you kindly...?' So it seems odd and is possibly a case of transferrence. Personally I would never recommend saying 'I kindly....' at all since kindness is a quality that others should impute to you, not you to yourself. 'I humbly/respectfully/earnestly...' seem more appropriate to me.

protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 14:45

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