Prayer, suit, plea, petition, appeal mean an earnest and usually a formal request for something and their corresponding intransitive verbs pray, sue, plead, petition, appeal mean to make such a request.
Prayer and pray imply that the request is made to a person or body invested with authority or power or especially to God or a god; the words usually therefore connote humility in approach and often fervor in entreating.
In religious use, where prayer and pray always imply an act of worship, they may or may not connote a request or petition.
The implication of making a request is retained, however, in the specific legal use of these terms in a court of equity, where formally one prays for relief; the prayer in a bill in equity is the part that specifies the kind of relief sought. The words are also used in formal petitions or remonstrances to a legislative body.
Suit and sue imply a deferential and formal solicitation sometimes for help or relief but often for a favor, a grace, or a kindness. Except in legal use (see SUIT 2 ), in reference to the addresses of a man to the lady he hopes to marry, and in some idiomatic phrases such as “sue for peace,” the words are somewhat old-fashioned in flavor.
Plea (see also APOLOGY ) and plead often suggest a court of law, the status of a defendant or of an accused person, and formal statements in answer to a plaintiff’s allegations or the state’s charge. In general use both terms imply argument or urgent entreaty, of which self-justification, a desire for vindication or support, or strong partisanship is usually the motive.
Petition and its verb petition imply a formal and specific request, often in writing, presented to the person or body that has power to grant it.
The words carry little or no connotation of abject humility or of entreaty; rather, they suggest a right to make a request, as one of the sovereign people or as one who is confident that it will be judged on its merits.
Appeal, as noun and verb, basically implies a call for attention to and favorable consideration of one’s plea.
Often it additionally connotes an insistence on being heard and hence a change of plea from an inferior to a superior power (as a higher court or a higher authority) or to an emotion in an attempt to evoke a favorable response or judgment.
Sometimes, used alone, either noun or verb implies a sympathetic or favorable response or a compelling quality.