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.
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]."
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.