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My student yesterday said "I asked around the people for directions." but I corrected it to "I asked THE PEOPLE around me for directions."(I changed the order). I couldn't provide a good explanation for why I did that. Can someone please help me do that? Thank you.

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The term ask around is a phrasal verb that functions intransitively:

I asked around for directions. Finally, I found someone who could assist me.

The verb ask by itself can act transitively, where you specify who you are asking:

I asked three strangers for directions. Finally, I found someone who could assist me.

Interestingly enough, the dictionary on my Mac says:

• [ no obj. ] (ask around) talk to various people in order to find something out: there are fine meals to be had if you ask around.

The way your version reads could be parsed like this:

"I asked [the people around me] [for directions]."

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To me, it should be corrected as : I asked the people around for directions since the verb ask is transitive, and by putting around before the people, the object will be missed because around in the first is a preposition not adverb.

  • You do offer a grammatical sentence using transitive ask, but the verb "ask around" means "to inquire", and is intransitive. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 28 '17 at 14:04

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