Hebrew Requests

In Hebrew, indirect requests occur slightly more than half of the time, almost as often as in Argentinean Spanish:


tishtof et hakelim, b’vakasha ‘Wash the dishes, please.’


ulay tenake ktsat? ‘Perhaps you’ll clean up a bit?’


hisharta balagan nora bamitbax. ‘You’ve left an awful mess in the kitchen.’

In Hebrew, directness of requests may vary according to the relative power of the interlocutors. Speakers in positions of power tend to request more directly than those in a relatively powerless position. The most important factors that influence Hebrew request behavior appear to be the goals of the request, the degree of power, and the relative age of the interlocutors.

Hebrew speakers sometimes use the multifunctional downgrader "ulay" ‘perhaps’ in a unique way. Other languages appear to have only partial equivalents to this modifier (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989, p. 135). For example, ulay has a different function in each of the following:

  1. ulay tesader et hamacav bamitbax? ‘Perhaps you’ll tidy up the situation in the kitchen?’
  2. ulay tafsik lenadned?! ‘Perhaps you’ll stop nagging?!’
  3. yehudit, tuxli ulay lehash’il li et hamaxveret? Judith, will you perhaps be able to lend me your notebook?’
  4. atem nosim ulay habayta? ‘Are you perhaps going home?’

Note that (1) and (2) above are requests phrased as very strong suggestions. In (1), ulay is a nondetachable element of the indirect request, while in (2) it serves to underline the forcefulness of a direct request (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989, p. 135). So while in (2) ulay is intensifying a direct request, in (1) it is accompanying an indirect request. In (3), ulay serves two roles: that of a downgrader (helping the speaker to appear as unimposing) and also to signal that a request is being made. In (4), ulay also functions to signal a request, but in this case in the form of a hint. So the ulay in (3) is more forceful than in (4).

Above passages from Blum-Kulka et al. (1989), p. 135.



Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Alblex Publishing Corporation.


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