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Is there any difference between ask about someone and ask after someone? For example:

Kate's skipped the past two classes. The teacher asked about her.

Kate's skipped the past two classes. The teacher asked after her.

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  • To ask after someone has been falling out of favour over the past century and more. Increasingly, people just use ask about someone for the "well-wishing health status enquiry" context. – FumbleFingers Oct 14 '20 at 16:49
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica I do not think you can reliably use ngram to compare a general use to a specific use. It is interesting that "asked how she was" and "asked after her" have relatively equal ranks. You may be correct that "ask after" is falling out of favor, but ngram is not the tool to prove it. – Jeff Morrow Oct 14 '20 at 19:02
  • @JeffMorrow: I trust my own knowledge of language enough to be quite certain that to ask / enquire after someone ['s health] is a declining usage. If NGram shows a chart indicating what I know anyway, why should I not treat it as "confirmation"? – FumbleFingers Oct 15 '20 at 12:57
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Because your opinion is just that. Your experience may well validate that "about" is replacing "after" in that specific sense in your language environment, but it cannot be confirmed by a comparison of a general usage against a specific usage among English users generally. – Jeff Morrow Oct 15 '20 at 21:36
  • I don't get it. There is no "universal authority" out there telling us what is or isn't true in such matters. But in Google Books I have easy access to information that simply wasn't available to even the most erudite scholar of language just a few decades ago. So imho that means there can be contexts where what I think based on that information can be far more "valid" than what some academic wrote in a book about language before I was born. My opinion is just an opinion, and so is yours. We just disagree, that's all. – FumbleFingers Oct 16 '20 at 11:52
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I am not sure there is any difference in meaning in standard English. But in at least some regions of the US, "ask about her" does not imply any particular attitude or topic; it is completely general. "Ask after her" shows concern for her wellbeing or health. It tends, at least in some parts of the US, to imply an attitude of caring and a focus on "being OK."

Someone familiar with meanings outside the US may need to supplement this answer.

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    That meaning of 'ask after' is common in the UK as well. – Michael Harvey Oct 14 '20 at 17:38
  • @MichaelHarvey Good to know. Thank you. – Jeff Morrow Oct 14 '20 at 18:52
  • I could meet John and say "I saw Mary the other day and she asked after you". It need not be an enquiry specifically about welfare or health. Just they haven't seen the person for a while and wonder how they are doing. – Michael Harvey Oct 14 '20 at 19:16
  • That would not be the meaning in my part of the US, but the local dialect is odd. The region was first settled by people from Ulster (the Scotch-Irish) in the late 18th century and then had a huge influx of Germans and Slavs in the late 19th century. – Jeff Morrow Oct 14 '20 at 19:33
  • I would say that the non-specific meaning I mentioned in my second comment is the most common in the UK. – Michael Harvey Oct 14 '20 at 19:47

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