What is the proper/better wording?

  • ask for assist

  • ask for assistance

I always thought the later (ask for assistance) until seeing someone using "ask for assist" on some SE site, and before editing it I checked it only to find out that "assist" is also a noun. Even more, here it says:

assist is a helpful action or an act of giving

So appears to be the correct wording, but still not sure.

1 Answer 1


First, there are a few issues with grammar that need to be addressed.

Assist is a countable noun. That means that you need to use an article in front of it.

Can you give me an assist?
I will ask for an assist.

So, your first example phrase should really be changed to:

ask for an assist

Assistance, on the the other hand, is a mass noun. It may take the in front of it (although never an), but it can also stand on its own. It is based on context:

I will ask for assistance.
Thank you for the assistance.

Also, assist is both a noun and a verb, so it can be easy to confuse the two.

Please assist me.

Here, it's a verb, not a noun, and, therefore, you would not say, "Please an assist me."

So, let's actually look at the two variations of asking for help:

ask for an assist
ask for assistance

Both are grammatical.

(Although, as noted, if you had seen "ask for assist" without an, then it was ungrammatical.)

I queried Google Books Ngram Viewer for evidence of which of the two is more common. Annoyingly, or perhaps tellingly, while it charted ask for assistance it was unable to find ask for an assist at all. (This is made more explicit by Google Scholar which shows 19,900 hits for the former and only 6 for the latter.)

My own opinion is that ask for assistance is the more common of the two. But if you see ask for an assist, it would also be acceptable.

Note that, per a comment, ask for an assist may be more understandable in North America than in the UK.

  • Great, thanks. Really weird no results found for "ask for an assist" then. Jun 24, 2018 at 14:25
  • 1
    @ShadowWizard Google Books Ngram Viewer won't plot the results when there are too few of them (under 40, I believe). Also, note that en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/assist labels assist (the noun) in the mentioned meaning as North American. Personally (I'm not a native speaker of English, so my opinion is generally worthless, but still), this use of assist looks kinda odd and I'd really only take it to mean the sports thing (described in the linked dictionary), but I'd definitely use the article there.
    – user3395
    Jun 24, 2018 at 15:29

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