7

What is the proper way of starting an email:

Hi X,

I have a question for you.

Or

I have a question to you.

Google fings 122M of the first version and 45M of the second one.Is the second one always incorrect?

  • 3
    This question might be appreciated more at the relatively new site for English Language Learners. (Not that this question needs to be moved - but you might appreciate knowing about that site.) – J.R. Apr 30 '13 at 18:43
  • When properly quoted for Google search, the numbers are: "I have a question for you" 28M results, "I have a question to you" 3M results. If usage on the net is a guide, the former over the latter 10:1. – MetaEd May 1 '13 at 4:30
  • I did the search without "I have a" – userJT May 9 '13 at 13:41
  • I think a great answer to this question was given by PaulQ at forum.wordreference.com/threads/… : " 'Questions to experts' = 'Questions that are addressed to experts' [...] 'Questions for experts' = 'Questions for experts to answer.' " – Iosif Pinelis Mar 13 '18 at 13:20
15

The idiom is overwhelmingly a question for (somebody). You'll sometimes meet the words a question to (someone), but usually in the context of put a question to (someone), where to is designating the indirect object the the verb put, not part of the noun phrase a question.

ie.

I have [a question for you].

but

I will put [a question] to you.

I guess that the majority of the 45M examples you found were from people who did not have English as their first language.

  • Note also that "The question to you is..." is common. Especially in debate or court proceedings. I suppose this is a case where "put" is inferred, but not said. – horatio Apr 30 '13 at 16:54
8

SUPPLEMENTARY:
This is a methodological note raised by the form of your question, not an answer to the question itself (which has been quite adequately answered already).

  • Never trust those numbers of hits Google reports. They vary widely, depending on where you post your search from (they told me 3,030,000 hits on "I have a question to you"!), and they are "estimates" which bear no relationship to the number of actual hits they can show you. I have on occasion been told Google had tens of thousands of hits on a particular phrase, which when followed up turned out to be ten pages or fewer: less than a hundred.

  • A more reliable method of assessing usage is through Google Ngrams. This only surveys printed sources, so it doesn't catch much colloquial use (except the heavily stylized dialogue in fiction and scripts); but the graphs it provides are tolerably reliable. Here's an informative Ngram for your two phrases, "have a question for you" and "have a question to you":

    Question For/To

    Note the box: "not found: have a question to you", confirming the answers you have been given.

    You do have to be careful with your search terms here (as you do with Google, too, of course). You can't for instance rely on a comparison of "question for you/question to you", because this will pick up a lot of irrelevant hits on "put a question to you"

    Also note that the scale is a percentage. A large spike can be caused by a single book in a relatively small number of samples. And that single book might be the result of an OCR error. Results from 1900 onwards are less likely to feature recognition errors, and results from recent years will feature a larger number of books in the sample.

  • Not to mention (ironically enough) the number of times Google will register a hit for someone asking "Is it okay to say 'I have a question to you'?" – J.R. Apr 30 '13 at 18:41
  • I think this chart is quite striking, suggesting the enormous difference that copy editors, most of them probably blindly using the same grammar-and-style manual, make for the printed world. Zero instances of "have a question to you"!! Google says it has about 2,610,000 instances of "I have a question to you" vs only 549,000 instances of "I have a question for you". Of course, Google hit numbers are to an extent incorrect, but those errors are extremely unlikely to nullify the usage of "to" here or even to reverse the almost 5-to-1 comparison between the two numbers. – Iosif Pinelis Mar 13 '18 at 14:17
  • Previous comment continued: It appears that, without the influence of copy editors enforcing uniform usage of oftentimes arbitrary, illogical, and/or outdated rules, the actual comparison between "to" and "for" here could be, not even 5-to-1, but maybe 10-to-1 or 20-to-1. Indeed, one would think that questions are more often addressed/directed to someone, rather than created/presented for someone to ponder/consider. – Iosif Pinelis Mar 13 '18 at 14:37

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