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I know how to use "ask of" in many cases. But I have encountered a sentence, that for me it is wrong. But, since i am not a native English speaker I can not be sure.

Implement an application allowing parents to ask questions of school personnel.

What this sentence "means", is that, an application will be implemented that will allow parents ask questions to school personnel, for example about how to help their children with homework and such.

I didn't write it, a native English speaker did, and he said it is a nuance of English, related with "ask of". But when I read it, I feel it means that the parents will be able to ask questions about school personnel.

I would really appreciate it if you could tell me if this is the correct usage and why.

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    BTW, "Implement ... personnel" is what I call stilted or self-important business speak. If it were a really good (but bad) example, they'd have written "Implement an Application ... to ask questions of School Personnel." using incorrect capitalization to Emphasize Importance. People get into a bad habit of doing this because they don't trust the language itself, and perhaps half-conscously don't trust in their own abilities to use it correctly. They falsely hype words or structures, without realizing that simple and direct is more powerful. (continued ...) – Howard Pautz Sep 13 '13 at 18:21
  • (... continued) "Create an application allowing parents to ask school personnel questions." OOPS notice even that simpler version is not a full sentence! Another Biz Speak problem... well, ok, maybe it was a bullet point in a list of todo items ... "We should create an application allowing parents to ask school personnel questions online." Though longer, I think it is clearer and more direct. – Howard Pautz Sep 13 '13 at 18:24
  • @HowardPautz you are completely right! This is a business text. And it is also part of a list of bullets :) – Dzyann Sep 13 '13 at 19:04
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The "correct" preposition is just a matter of idiomatic usage...

We ask a question of someone we hope may answer it.

We put or pose a question to that person.

We also sometimes direct a question at someone, but that wouldn't really work in OP's context. It's far less common overall, and tends to be used in respect of a single question (or single series of questions).


It's worth pointing out that all the above variants involving prepositions are relatively uncommon compared to the simple version - normally, we just ask someone a question.

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    There's also a style aspect. All three (of/to/at) are third-party like. For instance, I'd not say "I would like to ask a question of FumbleFingers" directly here :)) Nor, "I would like to pose a question to FumbleFingers" - unless of course, I wanted to point at F.F. and make an example of his writing in a stilted sort of way. This is what polititians do on the debate floor. However, if @Dzyann noticed that I had asked F.F. something, Dzyann might post elsewhere "Howard posed this silly question to FumbleFingers." "Ask not of your country what it can do for you..." – Howard Pautz Sep 13 '13 at 18:15
  • @Howard: Not sure what you mean by "third-party like". It's true that we're more likely to say "He asked me a question", rather than "He asked a question of me" - but that would be the same if he were asking John, for example. It's just that with a longer noun phrase and/or more formal context it might seem a bit clumsy to rely on position and forget the preposition. – FumbleFingers Sep 13 '13 at 18:27
  • yeah, sorry, I couldn't find a term for the concept and obviously didn't spell it out clearly. I mean that weird sort of "objectification" and indirection that the three examples (of/to/at) cause. Between people who are "present" with each other actually or virtually, using those forms intentionally are implicit ad hominem. So pointing this comment at you, I ask of you, does this clarify my position (Sir)? :)) Me doth think we're going full-tilt retro here :-P – Howard Pautz Sep 13 '13 at 18:33
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    btw +1 for the excellent answer to the OP. Would be enlightening to determine how many questions here and on ELU are based on prepositions! – Howard Pautz Sep 13 '13 at 18:35
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    @Dzyann: Note that you can also ask of someone that they do something (carry out some action, as opposed to simply answering a question). There's also Howard's implied point that asking questions of someone tends to sound dated/formal, and the mere fact that of suggests getting something *from someone. In a roundabout way, all those points imply greater expectation of a response if "of" is included - but that's a very subtle point, not normally likely to be relevant. – FumbleFingers Sep 13 '13 at 21:15

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