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  • ask

    This error is linked to particular dialects of English. For some individuals, the word ask poses a problem. You may have heard sentences such as, “May I ax you a question?” Of course, the speaker intends to say ask, but the s and k sounds are transposed so that it sounds like ax, as in the tool used to chop wood. For those who have difficulty pronouncing this word, just remember that the s comes before the k, not the other way around.

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    Posted by Rachel V. in Pronunciation

    20 Responses to “ask”

    Thank you for taking the time to add your thoughts to the discussion. I can't respond to every comment, but I read and appreciate them all.

    1. B from the Bush says:

      Do the “non-prescriptivists” really believe that no one says this out of pure ignorance, that all mispronunciations, substitution of homophones in writing, etc, are valid choices based on some supposed “just-as-valid” cultural variant? Come on – admit it – some people are just plain ignorant, while others are clearly bigoted.

    2. Lester Jones says:

      Ask in Old English is ‘acsion’. West Indian and cockney both tend to use the ‘aks’ sound so it’s possible that it’s a legacy of earlier when the british first travelled to the West Indies.

    3. lee says:

      I’ve always wondered how these people, who won’t (or can’t) pronounce “ask” properly, pronounce words like “basket”, “mask”, “task”, “casket”,”Alaska”, “Pulaski”, etc.

    4. Dave Murray says:

      I have noticed a change in the last 20 years or so in the pronunciation od words like “button” “mountain” or the name “Clinton”

      Each of these words is said, usually by younger people, as respectively,
      Butt-in, mount-in, and Clint-in.

      I hear it even from national media correspndents.

      Why did this happen and why aren’t at least professionals counseled against this type of pronunciation?

      I have tried, in vain, to find an answer to this.

      • Rachel V. says:

        I believe the term for the sound you mention is “glottal stop.” It’s common with American accents in words like the ones you mentioned. It’s also present in the Cockney accent in certain words, for example, little. As for why this pronunciation exists, I don’t have an answer. :-)

      • Claire Bush says:

        In English – unstressed syllables reduce to shwa. Without exception. So a word like button or mountain will have the unstressed syllable sound the way you have transcribed it. The symbol for shwa is an upside down e which you can easily find on line or in a dictionary. The mid-/t/ as in button is not quite the glottal stop of cockney. However, there is a symbol for the sound and it is called a flap. it is a standard feature in American English. As a matter of fact I have not heard Americans pronouncing alveolar stops in mid position except in American movies from the 30s where the upper crust spoke in a quasi British accent to demonstrate their refined, wealthy and educated status.

    5. What’s interesting about axe for ask is how much it annoys people. Just say it as it’s spelled, they insist. Yet, few people complain that most people don’t pronounce the first “r” in “February,” and while the way I pronounce “drawer” is more like “dror” and my ex girlfriend from long island pronounced it “draw,” neither of us get much grief for it (and seriously, does *anyone* pronounce it the way it’s spelled?).

      I don’t think “pronounce it as it’s spelled” is an especially useful rule for a language with very eccentric spelling.

      Practically speaking, using axe for ask is a bad idea because many people will consider you uneducated and judge you as lacking intelligence. I tend to have that reaction myself. But I think the case for it being inherently preferable is actually not as strong as some people believe.

      • Brian says:

        Excellent point, Charles. “Pronounce it how it’s spelled” is a recipe for disaster when speaking American English. So many borrowed words, evolutions that have become standard over time, etc. Pronounce these just as they’re spelled: blood, moon, good, tough, cough, bough, laughter, daughter, the list goes on.

    6. James T. says:

      I’m beginning to think that the ‘African-American Vernacular English’ continuing mispronunciation of this word is a (perhaps) unconscious manifestation of a cultural resistance to assimilation. For example, I hear Al Sharpton say “axe” (rather than “ask”), but I do not hear Barack Obama or Eric Holder mispronounce the word. The fact that this pronunciation may have been acceptable in Old English, is irrelevant to the issue of modern American cultural assimilation.

    7. Dom says:

      If you are going to pronounce it incorrectly then at least say the letters in the correct order! Nothing to do with dialects at all.
      In Britain it is “arsk” or literally “ask” with a hard ‘a’ as in apple.

      By the way, I generally hear it mispronounced as “arks” as in Noah, rather than ‘ax’ or ‘aks’.

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’d be interested to know if this all started in the latter 20th century…

    8. Robb says:

      When writing in the African-American vernacular, what is the “correct” spelling of this word? Aks, ax, or axe?

    9. Benjamin says:

      “Modern dialectal ax is as old as O.E. acsian and was an accepted literary variant until c.1600.”

      (taken from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ask)

      In fact, “ask” was originally the “incorrect” usage.

      • Rob the Linguoist says:

        To begin: acsian and ascian were the two ways of saying this…1,000 years ago.

        For anyone else reading this: If tha* thinkst that tha (thou) and other grammar nazi’s* have correct grammar and everyone else hath it wrong, check out your* own grammar first. Also, have ye (have ya) heard of a period of the English language called “Old English?”

        Also what about people like me that say ass and not ask or ax/aks/acs/axe (however ye’d prefer it be spelld*) [truth be told, I actually vary between ass, aks, and ask if I absolutely must pronounce it that way]

        * Tha (pronounced thah) because when I say the word our, I don’t say hour but are. (Look up thou in Wikipedia and go to Current Usage)
        tha thinkst and tha are the 2nd person singular (when you’re talking to one person, not about them)
        ye and your are in the plural, and no that was not a mistake deliberate or otherwise, if you read (tha and other grammar nazi’s…), then read (…check your grammar…) you should see the connection, if it still doesn’t make sense (you and other grammar nazi’s)

        In the 19th century it was standard to pluralise foreign sounding words with ‘s, thus nazi’s and not nazis, from wikipedia which they cite from: Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. pp. 63–65.

        So basically the point I’m trying to make is this:
        Language, human language, is always and forever changing. 1,000 years ago English speakers would say something like: Ic ne cann noht singan. (each nay con note sing-on {note has the ch of loch where the h is}) while we today say either: I can’t sing or cannot sing. (even I can’t not sing sounds like someone saying they can’t help but sing to me; whereas I can’t find nothing is basically as it was 1000 years ago, but I know some people would have a problem with that.)

        Also before I’m done, there is not a single English speaker that ends their sentences with a preposition, in cases like that they’re called POSTpositions (or alternatively with verbs, verb particles, which make up phrasal verbs). Just thought I throw that one out there.

        And a final note: I judge thy grammar to be wrong because addressest me with the object form of the plural, so I constantly have to ask you people, whom art addressing, me and whom else? See what I did there?

    10. Andy says:

      I don’t agree. This varies by dialect. In African-American Vernacular English, this pronunciation is accepted and internally valid. I think you’re talking about “regionally-appropriate”, not “correct” pronunciation

      • Akemi says:

        I agree with Andy.

      • Gay S. says:

        I despise this ridiculous reply to the question of “ax” vs “ask”. Ax is never never never acceptable for correct English. Is it a common mistake, especially in the African American vernacular? YES, but that does not make it right… Lets try to teach people the correct way to speak our beautiful language instead of copping out and saying that AX is ok in some sub cultures of our country. Ax instead of Ask is just as wrong as I Seen, instead of I saw… or as wrong as I done instead of I did… Get it right, say it right, and maybe teach somebody something by your good example.

        • Benjamin says:

          I think this is a rather culturally insensitive way of looking at it! “I seen” and “I done” are also internally correct in some dialects – different dialects are governed by different rules. I, myself, am British, so I don’t speak write your beautiful language in the correct way – I pronounce “awe” in the same way as “or”, and I spell “-or” words such as “color” and “favor” with “-our” instead. But this doesn’t mean I’m doing any damage to your language – I’m simply respecting the rules of a variant.

        • D.R.C. says:

          @Gay S. ~Freakin’ prescriptivists are so detrimental to linguistic evolution.
          If you only knew how many things you say and write today were scorned by your grandparents or their grandparents. That’s why you don’t speak like Chaucer today. I doubt you could understand him without help.

          • Huntington says:

            I always wonder about prescriptivists’ stake in saying one way of speaking is always (or, as Gay S. and Dom would no doubt write, “always always always”) correct.