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I was just talking with someone about the rule regarding "asking a question to/from/of". I am natively Dutch, and to me, "to" makes the most sense intuitively, since in Dutch grammar you pose a question, you don't ask it. I'm aware however that "to" is incorrect in English.

The person I was talking to said that the correct rule is "from". This seems quirky to me however. If you "ask X from someone", it means that you ask them to give you an X. So to me, whereas "asking an answer from" makes sense, "asking a question from" doesn't, unless you're asking for a question.

I've seen a source on the internet that says "of" is the correct rule. But this sounds odd to both of us. "asking a question of X" sounds like you have a question about X.

So, which is the correct one, and why? Is my reasoning about "from" correct?

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1  
"To ask" already implies a question, which is similar to the Dutch verb "vragen", not so much "stellen" (to pose). In both Dutch and English, the default is to omit the preposition in that case. But similar as Dutch and English may be, prepositions are the major exception. My (native Dutch) mother invited the neighbor's kid and me (both 4 years old) to sit on the table, and we happily complied ;) –  MSalters Jun 23 at 8:12

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If you have to use a preposition with ask a question, then of your choices, certainly it has to be of.

The thing is that normally, we wouldn’t use a preposition at all to name the person we’re posing the question to. Instead, we’d just use an indirect object, which must fall between the verb and the direct object:

  • I’ll ask them three questions. [indirect object]
  • I’ll ask three questions of them. [prepositional object]

Or like this:

  • He asked them my name. [indirect object]
  • He asked my name of them. [prepositional object, but somewhat stilted]

But remember, you also ask someone for something, which makes it more of a request instead of just questioning them:

  • He asked them for my phone number.
  • He requested my phone number from them.
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I can't find any references that really address this, but as a native English speaker, this is what sounds right to my ear:

Ask John a question.

Ask a question of John.

Pose a question to John.

Request a response to a question from John.

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Or indeed "put a question to John". –  tobyink Jun 23 at 23:48
    
"Request a response to a question from John" is ambiguous. Should the response be from John, or was the question asked by John? –  tobyink Jun 23 at 23:48

Ordinarily we use none of these: we say ask a person/him/her a question. But when we wish to express the person to whom the question is addressed with a preposition phrase, we use of: ask a question of a person/him/her.

Likewise, we inquire of someone what it is that we want to know. But as MrsLannister points out, this does not hold with other verbs.

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