I found some illustrative sentences as below in online-dictionaries (Cambridge and Learner's Dictionary).

  • If you need any help, please don't hesitate to ask.
  • She asked their forgiveness.

Why they don't use "ask for" in this case? What is the difference between "ask help/permission/forgiveness" and "ask for help/permission/forgiveness"?

And please tell me how and when I can use "ask" instead of "ask for", as well.

Is usage of 'ask something' ('ask' with a direct object) limited only in the case of 'help/permission/forgiveness'?

  • 2
    It is idiomatic to drop the 'for' in the case of 'forgiveness' or 'permission', You can also 'ask a favour'. It is equally correct to 'ask for forgiveness/permission/etc.' But whilst you can 'ask Mr Greenway a question', if you want him to come to the phone, you have to 'ask for Mr Greenway'.
    – WS2
    Mar 17, 2015 at 6:58
  • @WS2 Thank you. Is it equally correct only in the case of 'forgiveness' or 'permission'? So, you don't use 'ask' like "I ask a flower for my mother."?
    – Dee M
    Mar 17, 2015 at 7:34
  • Right, you don't "ask a flower for my mother". Or any tangible thing. But you could "ask my mother for a flower!" Mar 17, 2015 at 9:07
  • @Brian Hitchcock Thank you. I understand 'ask something intangible' is OK in some cases. Thanks.
    – Dee M
    Mar 17, 2015 at 9:19
  • This needs an extended answer. The complementation patterns of help in particular are extremely complex. 'Ask a favour of X'; 'Ask a lot of X'; but *'Ask help of X'. Mar 17, 2015 at 10:36

4 Answers 4


Well, for starters, ask has to do with asking a question, and ask for is equivalent to request.

Let's look a little more closely at the "help" sentence you found -- "If you need any help, please don't hesitate to ask."

I think there is a bit at the end that is implied but not expressed -- "If you need any help, please don't hesitate to ask (for some [help])." I think the part in parentheses is generally left out because the idea is clear enough without it.

Here's another version of the same idea that would work in English: "If I'm in my office, you can always come in and ask for help if you need any. Don't worry about interrupting me -- unless I'm on the phone, of course."

Now let's look at the "forgiveness" sentence. Actually, as you were wondering, you could indeed also say, "She asked for their forgiveness." But because of the repetition for... for, it sounds nicer the way your dictionary put it.

You asked about the difference between "ask help/permission/forgiveness" and "ask for help/permission/forgiveness." You can say all six of those, except ask help. That doesn't work.

Ask permission is more common than ask for permission, but this is the kind of thing you'll pick up naturally through practice. If I imagine myself telling someone to ask permission first -- I'm probably talking to my ten-year-old, and I want to make an impact -- so I speak as concisely as I can, with no optional prepositions!

I hope this helps you feel more confidence. I'm not a linguist -- but then, most English speakers aren't!


As @WS2 suggested, a number of these expressions are idiomatic, resulting in the dropping of the (technically necessary) preposition. There isn't a pattern or rule, rather, as idioms, they're exempt from the rule.

  • Our linguistic version of the Great Wall of China, and perhaps just as effective. Mar 21, 2015 at 7:00

In many case, you would follow "forgiveness" with "for", such as "She asked their forgiveness for her forgetfulness." Adding "for" after "asked" in this scenario would be awkward. I suspect that the shortened version developed from this pattern.

  • Thank you for new interpretation. This is easy to remember.
    – Dee M
    Mar 17, 2015 at 23:00

Well, it depends on the situation. "Ask for" is used more as advice (pushing you to do something), "ask" is more of an order (meaning you absolutely have to!).

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