https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/common-verbs/ask-and-ask-for says that "to ask" is used for questions and "to ask for/to" is used for requests (the 1st with nouns, the 2nd with verbs).

However, one of the definitions of "to ask" in https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/ask is: "to speak or write to someone saying that you want them to do something, to give you something, or to allow you to do something".

Some examples given in this definition of "to ask" are:

  • Can I ask you a favour?
  • I'd like to ask your advice/opinion on a financial matter.
  • You have to ask permission to leave.

Therefore, it seems to me that the definition of "to ask sth" given in the first link is incomplete. Could I replace "to ask" with "to ask for" in these 3 sentences above ? What about other contexts (eg to ask money, to ask ideas, to ask a new car)?

1 Answer 1


You can use ask for in the examples that you have given—you just don't have to.

  • "Can I ask you for a favour?"
  • "I'd like to ask for your advice/opinion on a financial matter."
  • "You have to ask for permission to leave."

Technically, I suppose that, in the first two cases, you would use ask for if you were intending to obtain the advice or favour in the future, rather than straight away. Only someone being really picky or condescending would pull you up on any of those, though.

Asking permission is an idiomatic concept, and is fine, but you can reasonably say either.

In your "other contexts", however, those are tangible things that you are asking for, so I would use ask for in those cases:

  • "Can I ask you for some money?" is fine;
  • "Can I ask you some money?" is clearly wrong.

From comments:

"Ideas" are intangible. What about "to ask ideas"? I am trying to figure out if there is any rule when "to ask" can replace "to ask for" or if those cases are idiomatic (random)

You ask for ideas.

Tangible (my use) was not strictly correct—I knew that when I wrote it, but I couldn't think of a better word at the time. Specific might be closer to what I intended, but it still does not quite convey the concept.

In the most general terms, you ask a question; you ask for a thing. I reckon that's the closest you'll get to a rule, but it is nuanced.

The examples you listed above can be expressed legitimately in either manner, with no real loss of understanding, but that is because there is both a thing and there is the implied intention to ask an actual question:

  • "Can I ask you a favour?" has the thing (a favour), which you can ask for; but it is also obviously a lead-in to a follow-up question (i.e., the favour that you actually want) that you are about to ask.

  • "I'd like to ask your advice..." has the thing (advice), which you can ask for; but it also carries the question (i.e. what should I do in this situation?), which you are about to ask.

  • "You have to ask permission..." has the thing (permission), which you can ask for; and the obvious pending question (i.e. can I leave?), which you then ask.

Compare and contrast:

  • "Can I ask you for some money?" has the thing (money), but there is no pending question – you just want the thing. So you definitely ask for the money, you don't ask the money.

  • Same with "Can I ask you for a new car?" – there is the thing (car) and only the thing, so you ask for it.

  • "Can I ask a question?" definitely has the follow-up question. You certainly don't ask for a question (unless, perhaps, you were being interviewed, but that is an entirely different context).

This isn't rock-solid, though—especially when examining "Can I ask you for your ideas". There is an implicit follow-up question there (i.e. the subject you want ideas on), and I haven't got a reason for why it is OK to ask an opinion but not to ask an idea, but you definitely do have to ask for an idea and you definitely can ask for an opinion.

Given you can interchangeably use ask and ask for in all your listed cases, and only use ask in one case, perhaps your rule could be, ask a definite question; ask for a definite thing and, if in doubt, just ask for it.

  • "Ideas" are intangible. What about "to ask ideas"? I am trying to figure out if there is any rule when "to ask" can replace "to ask for" or if those cases are idiomatic (random). Aug 16, 2019 at 19:34
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    @AlanEvangelista - have updated. It should be as clear as mud, now. :-) Aug 16, 2019 at 20:45

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