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Is there any difference between 頼む and 聞く? I've checked a few dictionaries, and it seems to me that maybe 頼む is more humble and 聞く more generic. Would that be it? Are they generally interchangeable?

I think they both mean 'ask'. For example:

友だちに何時と聞きました。 友だちに何時と 頼み ました。

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  • Could you add what you imagine they both mean or what contexts you think they are interchangeable in? Those two verbs are generally speaking not interchangeable. – virmaior May 21 '15 at 12:30
  • @virmaior Done. – Daniel May 21 '15 at 12:46
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「[頼]{たの}む」 means "to ask a favor", "to make a request", etc.

「[聞]{き}く」 means "to ask (a question)"

I cannot think of a situation where 「[頼]{たの}む」 and 「[聞]{き}く」 are interchangeable except for in a very informal conversation where a question being asked involves a request. Careful speakers, however, would try to avoid this.

「[車]{くるま}を[貸]{か}してくれる(or かどうか)、スミスに聞いてみよう。」= "Let's ask Smith if he could lend us his car!"

To say the same thing using 「頼む」, one will need to make a change in the middle part as well.

「車を貸してくれるよう(or ように)、スミスに頼んでみよう。」

Careful speakers would not swap 「頼む」 for 「聞く」 or vice versa in the example sentences above. That, of course, means that some people actually would do that.

Let's take a look at your sentences.

「友だちに何時と聞きました。」=「友達に『何時?』と聞きました。」 = "I asked my friend what time it was."

This is a good sentence and you could NOT use 「頼む」 here.

「友だちに何時と頼みました。」

This makes no sense, I am afraid. Where is the request that is being made?

To use 「頼む」 correctly, one could alter the sentence to:

「友達に5時に来るように頼みました。」 or

「友達に5時に来てと頼みました。」

Naturally, you could NOT use 「聞く」 in these sentences.

= "I asked my friend to come at 5 o'clock."

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[聞]{き}く refers to a request for information. Note that this particular usage of the word is often written as 訊く as well. Examples:

  • [友]{とも}だちに[何時]{なんじ}と[聞]{き}きました。 (Asked a friend what time it was.)
  • [自分]{じぶん}の[胸]{むね}に[聞]{き}け ("Ask your heart." / "Look inside yourself.")

[頼]{たの}む is all about a request for action. Examples:

  • [代筆]{だいひつ}を頼む (Ask someone to write a letter. / "Please write a letter [for me].")
  • [口外]{こうがい}しないよう頼む ("Don't reveal this [secret].")

As you can see with these definitions, 「友だちに何時と頼みました」 doesn't really make any sense. I don't know of any examples I've seen where the two words can be switched out while still retaining the same meaning. This is a good example of the fact that even though two words may translate similarly, that doesn't necessarily mean that they function similarly in the original language. :)

(other example sentences from goo[辞書]{じしょ}: 聞く, 頼む)

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聞く means 'ask (a question)'.

友達に何時か聞きました。I asked a friend what time it was.

頼む means 'ask someone to do something'.

友達に助けてくれと頼みました。 I asked a friend to help me.

  • I think you're missing a particle on that first sentence or else you should change it to 聞いた if you're going for informal. – virmaior May 21 '15 at 14:49
  • @virmaior 「何時か聞きました」、「何時かと聞きました」、「何時か聞いた」、「何時かと聞いた」... どれも使えますよ。 – user5185 May 21 '15 at 15:00
  • But isn't skipping the と somewhat casual or is it acceptable as some sort of absorption under the か? Would it be okay for me to do that in business e-mails? – virmaior May 21 '15 at 15:10
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    @virmaior ~か聞きました。/~か聞きます。 is not informal. For example, you would say 何時か聞いてみます rather than 何時かと聞いてみます. in a business email. It's not absorption. It's 「~か+聞く」「~か+尋ねる」 'ask if~' 'ask what~' etc. – user5185 May 21 '15 at 15:18

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