Usually, when words have multiple meanings (/translations) they're all just translations/branches of the same idea (eg. 頼む is listed as '1. to request; to beg; to ask ​2. to call; to order; to reserve​ 3. to entrust to​' which all branches off of the same concept of relying on somebody to get something and isn't actually a different meaning)

but I don't really understand 聞く? how is hearing and asking related? is it the idea that you're listening for an answer? is it similar to "hearing from someone" but with an answer involved?

both hearing and asking are really important concepts so i just find it hard to believe they'd be irrelevantly bundled in the same verb..

  • 3
    I think when 聞く means "to ask," it actually means "to ask and then listen for a response."
    – Jimmy Yang
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 5:34
  • This doesn’t answer your question but I for one find it strange that English speakers say “to request something from (or of) someone”, rather than “to request something to someone”. I believe “to ask something of someone” is also a valid construction although “to ask something to someone” seems more common nowadays. It seems to me like you are already anticipating to “hear” something from the person to whom you “ask”, although native speakers probably don’t see it that way.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 5:58
  • 1
    @aguijonazo if you're hearing 'ask to someone' then I suspect it's coming from a non-native speaker. 'Ask of someone' is correct but sounds a bit fancy, 'ask to someone' is just wrong. Normally it is just 'ask someone'. Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 8:14
  • @user3856370: OK. But you got my point, right?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 8:38
  • @aguijonazo Yes, I think I get your point and, as a native speaker, I certainly didn't see it that way before. Even now you've pointed it out I'm afraid I'm still not entirely convinced. The more I think about the words that go with 'ask' and 'request' the more I doubt my ability to use my own language correctly. English is a mess of a language. Anyway, better stop here since this discussion is off-topic for this site. Commented Jun 27, 2021 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


According to this page, きく means to pay attention to something with an intention to receive, or perceive, something that is produced from it. This process includes waiting till that thing is delivered and understanding its meaning.

It is also used, intransitively, to mean someone possesses an ability to perform such an act, or by extension, something produces a perceivable, often desirable, effect. In this sense, it is usually written as 利く or 効く, as in 鼻が利く and 薬が効く.

As a transitive verb, it can also be applied to other senses than hearing, such as smell and taste, although this usage is not very common in modern Japanese. 酒を聞く (or 利く) is one remaining example. It’s often used in the form of 利き酒.

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