Many times I want to say in German that a person asked us for something or for infos or for an answer. This person can be anybody or a businessman, a very polite elder person anything. There comes the semantical problem:

Wenn ich sage: Der hat uns darum gebeten, seine 5mm-Chips nur an Kunden X anzubieten ...

All I want to say is that he just asked us if we could do this or that as an equal. Auf Augenhöhe. With the word combination ...darum gebeten...

Does the other person unterstand that you say that he asked like a beggar like um Hilfe bitten?

In other words: can the word combination bitten um lead to the horrible missunderstanding that the other person understands that you are calling him (indirectly or directly) a beggar?

Everytime I want to say he asked us I'm stuck trying not to insult the other person.



In fact there is no association with bitten and beggars. That would be betteln (begger = Bettler). Bitten has a predominantly positive connotation. It basically means to politely ask something. However, within the right context, it can also be used to give an order or task to someone, or just to request an action (as you stated above).

Chef: Ich würde dich bitten, das noch zu tun.

This would be an example for a superior giving you a task, but "wrapping" it in a nicer form.

[Er] hat uns darum gebeten, seine 5mm Chips nur an Kunden X anzubieten

(small comment: Er is more polite than Der)

This would be understood as a request, not as begging and it is completly reasonable to use the verb here.

  • Thank your so much for your amazing answer that saves me from so many brain jams. In 4 min i am allowed from the system to accept your answer as correct and i will. Danke!!! Nov 20 at 20:00
  • 3
    While I appreciate your enthusiasm, you should also wait for other people who might give a more elaborate and/or better answer than mine. :) Nov 20 at 20:02

This is just an addendum to infinitezero's answer. The verbs bitten and betteln are of course no synonyms, and bitten does not mean that a person using it behaves like a beggar. As you said in your question, its neutral meaning is that somebody is asking for something.

However, the interpretation depends on the context.

  1. If a customer bittet you to do something, then usually it is as you decribe. But it may also be a polite variant of a tough demand.

  2. If somebody on the street says to you "Ich bitte um eine milde Gabe", you can be sure that he is begging.

  3. If somebody says indignantly to you "Ich bitte Sie!" he rejects something you said to him.

A nice verb related to bitten and betteln is bitteln which is used in the phrase "bitteln und betteln". This means that somebody wants to press you to do something although he does not have a justified demand. For example children like to do that to "motivate" their parents to satisfy a wish.


Yes, it can be misleading. Just putting things nicely has no automatic distinction between bitten and betteln.

Using the word "bitte" is a general pattern to ask for things nicely. Well, it ranges from "Please come in" over the usual "Can I have the ketch up, please?" to "Please help me!" (the latter being already begging).

What enables it to be misleading is the amount of power the asker has for the demand. Which requires lots of context information and knowledge about the current "culture of negotiation".

While I agree that by definition "bitten" and "betteln" are two different things, the usage of "bitte" is for all shades of grey between it.

And thus I agree that it is quite common to wrap up demands/orders/requests nicely like infinitezero points out, I see need to go further then Paul Frost.

Given example:

Der hat uns darum gebeten, seine 5mm Chips nur an Kunden X anzubieten.

  • which you describe as "auf Augenhöhe"

If I want to describe this - it is for me the beginning of corruption. Because it is asked for something that looks impossible to set out in writing in any legal contract. And it is asked with the assumption that it benefits both parties doing so - yet it is far beyond "give me the ketchup, please" regarding any financial implications. One could argue it is merely a form of a cooperative "tit for tat". Yet the "free market" does not allow the producer to limit your selling options (mostly, not the topic here, just the example).

So could your example be begging? Well, it is not what you say, but how you say it. So I understand that you are tempted to insult the other person.

If a seller offers me his product many times while each time I say "no thank you" - it feels like begging to me. After a while.

  • 2
    Autch. There's a lot of over-interpretation behind that answer.
    – tofro
    Nov 23 at 10:38

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