I will admit that I am clueless about all grammar-related terminology (prime example right there), but I'll try to explain as best as I can.

Conceptually, there's a difference between these two forms:

  1. To ask for something
  2. To ask a question

For the latter form, is a question the only thing someone can ask? It bugs me that I cannot think of a single other alternative!

  • 2
    I'll ask my friend.
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 14:39
  • 1
    I'll ask my friend [the question]. (Isn't "question" still understood?)
    – Adam
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 16:59
  • How about "to ask someone to dinner", in the sense of "to invite"?
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 17:23
  • This is a bit of a stretch but: "to ask someone [the question of whether or not they would like to go] to dinner." Or, in other words, isn't propositioning someone still basically asking them a question?
    – Adam
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 0:47
  • I'm not really sure why any of this matters, though.
    – Adam
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


You're absolutely right that there are two distinct meanings, and that your 1. (meaning "request") does not usually take a direct object, i.e. it usually requires "for", whereas 2 (meaning "put a question") does take a direct object.

Sense 2. can take other words meaning "question", eg "ask a conundrum", or it can take a clause representing the question as a direct object, eg "ask whether this is right".

One exception I can think of to the "usually" above, is that you can ask "a favour" and words of similar meaning - permission, leave, a boon, someone's indulgence. You can "ask" these or "ask for" them.

I'm not sure how much you can make use of the special English construction of putting the indirect object before the direct, without a preposition, with these words:

 He asked me a favour.

sounds as good to me as

 He asked me a question.

But I'm not sure about

 ?He asked me permission to go.

I think I would prefer

He asked me for permission to go.
  • "He asked me permission to go" I think is fine, but with "for" it's more natural. You can also "Ask someone the reason", "Ask someone the answer" and similar - though again "for" fits nicely here too.
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 19:40
  • Great answer, you covered a lot of aspects. It is clearer now; the second sense is distinct from the first in that asking a question is different to asking for a question, whereas this is not the case for favours or leave. Conundrum was a great example. Thanks.
    – David Tang
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 0:45

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