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I’m mystified about the use of the preposition “of” after the verb “ask” and “inquire” and the noun “inquiry.” Would someone help me, please?

First, do these two sentences mean the same thing?

  1. I asked my teacher a question.
  2. I asked a question of my teacher.

We can say, “That’s all I ask of you,” but #2 sounds incorrect, doesn’t it?

Secondly, please read these two sentences.

  1. The police inquired of his neighbors if they knew where he was.
  2. The police made an inquiry of his neighbors if they knew where he was.

I feel that #4 is wrong. Am I correct? Should this “of” be replaced by “to” or “with”?

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In, "I asked a question of my teacher", "of my teacher" is a prepositional, adverbial phrase that acts as a complement. This is correct.

In "The police made an inquiry of his neighbors if they knew where he was." is wrong.

In order to be correct, "if they knew where he was" would have to be a clause modifying "made" or "inquiry": it is not. I cannot think of an adverbial example but the adjectival modifying clause would be

"The police made an inquiry inquiries of his neighbors about whether they knew where he was."

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Sentences 1 and 2 have exactly the same meaning. The verb ask like many other ditransitive verbs has a variation with a prepositional phrase complement instead of two objects, like give, supply, etc.

Mark gave [John] [the bread].

Mark gave [the bread] [to John].

Mark supplied [us] [weapons].

Mark supplied [us] [with weapons].

Mark asked [John] [a question].

Mark asked [a question] [of John].

Sentences number three and four are an example of if with the same meaning as whether.

Similar constructions are to be found, e.g.

But as he had long been unhappy with the Viennese reception of serious art, he was reluctant to risk a concert, and made an inquiry of Berlin whether a performance of the mass and the symphony might be given there. (Biography of Beethoven. Biography from Grove / Kunst der Fuge)

Somewhat more common is the noun inquiry taking only an interrogative content clause as complement, e.g.

In response to an inquiry whether she had ever been arrested, Lola states that she was arrested five years earlier for fraud in unemployment benefits. (Policy Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest Records - EEOC)

Though rare, these do also occur with if instead of whether, e.g.

But notwithstanding the presence of two beautiful girls, one the fairest blonde, the other the brightest brunette, and both kind and affable in their manners to him, the young man was restless and anxious, until at length, with fierce blushes and faltering tones, he expressed a hope that Mrs. Grey was well, and made an inquiry if she were in. (Victor's Triumph Sequel to A Beautiful Fiend, Southworth, Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte, 1819-1899)

We want to now make an inquiry of you if you are standing by and reaffirming that written waiver of trial by a jury and submit to be tried by the panel of three judges who are seated here? (Supreme Court of Ohio, May 17, 197854 Ohio St. 2d 263 (Ohio 1978))

Overall, these seem rather formal in a present-day context.

The variation with to also exists with the noun inquiry:

His contract of employment was entirely informal, and consisted of an inquiry to him as to whether "you want to fish with me," and his answer in the affirmative. (Domanich vs Doratich, The Supreme Court of Washington, 24 Nov 1931)

The as to which introduces the interrogative content clause in this example is also a common variation in these constructions.

In sum, replacing if with whether would probably make sentence 4 more acceptable, but there are precedents for similar usage as it stands.

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  • Thank you for your answer in detail. It is very helpful. I understand that whether would be more commonly used than if, but do you think that there should be a word or words between inquiry and whether, such as in “he made an inquiry about whether a performance might be given” or “he made an inquiry to find whether a performance might be given?” – Musico Lingo Jul 13 '20 at 4:21
  • Both the usage with and without words between inquiry and whether are found. About and as to seem to be the more common ones, and I've yet to find an example with to find followed by whether when used with inquiry, but there are plenty of exmamples of this construction used apart from inquiry. – DW256 Jul 13 '20 at 4:27

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