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In British English, "to ask after" mean "to say that you would like to know how somebody is, what they are doing, if they are well etc.".

Say, Mary lives far away from her mom and she hasn't been talking with her mom for a long time. ow she wants to know how mom is or if she is well. Although Mary is quite sure that her mom is well, she just wants to ask to make sure.

The dictionary says "ask after somebody" is British English, so I wonder:

What is the American equivalent of "ask after"?

Some American says "I called my mom to check in on her". But I guess "I checked in on my mom" is more like I know my mom has a problem like a health problem.

But "ask after somebody" is more general and maybe you are not asking some questions such as "how are you?" or "How's it going?".

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    I (BrE) would use ask after for asking someone how a third person was, not about themself. Oct 11, 2022 at 7:15
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    I called my mom to ask after her isn't really a "valid" English utterance, because I asked after my mom can only mean I asked someone else how my mom was getting on. It's not idiomatic to say you're asking after a person if you're actually addressing your question to the very person you're asking about. So I called John to ask after John is nonsense (should be I called John to ask how he was or similar). Whereas I called John to ask after his wife is fine (but it's a bit too starchy / formal for most contexts). Oct 11, 2022 at 16:44
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    Outside of North America, it's "mum" not "mom". At least in en_AU, using "to ask after ..." is obviously understood, but is not a commonly used expression. Your initial sentence sounds somewhat North American to me, but maybe that's just the use of "mom".
    – Kingsley
    Oct 11, 2022 at 22:28
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    @Kingslenon No one here seems interested in their dod.
    – WS2
    Oct 11, 2022 at 23:56
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    @Tom Tom is "asking Mary how she is". "Ask after" has a very archaic feel to me (and I'm in my 60's), also a North American feel too. Oct 12, 2022 at 13:11

8 Answers 8

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check in on

If you call your mom to see how she is, in the US and Canada, we call this "checking in on" someone.

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    but now dictionary has "check in on" but "check on". Do we need "in" here?
    – Tom
    Oct 11, 2022 at 15:21
  • but it seems we have "check in with somebody". "To check in with sb"=to contact someone by making a phone call, short visit, etc., usually in order to make sure there are no problems or to tell them that there are no problems. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/check-in
    – Tom
    Oct 11, 2022 at 15:23
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    "Check in with" means to check in to get updated information. To "check in on" means to check in to see if that person is OK. "Check in with mom to see how many people are coming to the cottage this weekend." But "Check in on mom to see how she's recovering from the surgery." All these work just as well without "in", but it feels less natural to me.
    – gotube
    Oct 11, 2022 at 15:57
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    @Tom "check on", "check in on", they're both equally acceptable variations among others, popularity varying by region. Also, "check in" alone in some cases if the subject is clearly implied ("Why are you going to mom's?" "Oh, I just want to check in."). Personally, I only really use "check in with" when I'm waiting on somebody to complete a task and I want to get a progress update or some information. There's also "check up on", although -- and I've never thought about this before now -- I seem to only use it when I'm making a visit in person, usually when a specific concern is involved.
    – Jason C
    Oct 11, 2022 at 22:09
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    In Britain "checking in on someone" sounds a bit like something done by the police or the security services. We might "check up on mum" but only if we'd heard she'd been drinking too much, or something.
    – WS2
    Oct 12, 2022 at 0:00
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Check on

In the sentence you're asking about, I would choose the phrasing "I called my mom to check on her." It doesn't imply that I necessarily believe something specific is wrong with her, or that she is in a vulnerable state, just that the purpose of the call is to find out how she is doing and talk about things she's been doing lately and such.

"Check in on" to me would not usually be used for a phone call, more likely for an in-person visit. It's not a very firm distinction so I wouldn't be confused or surprised by someone using them interchangeably. Note that while "call" or "call on" can be used to mean an in-person visit, that usage is very rare in modern American English compared to a phone call.

"Check in with" is somewhat of the opposite, "checking in" is when you tell someone about your condition and the person you check in "with" is who you are telling. "I called my mom to check in with her" would most likely involve telling her about how you are doing, though you might expect her to respond in kind.

"Ask after" is a phrase I have never heard, and if someone had ever said to me "I'm calling to ask after your mother" I wouldn't have had the slightest idea what that meant before reading this question. The closest phrasing I can think of would be "ask about", which is quite a bit broader but could be used on its own in context. For example for "I called my sister to ask about our mom" that would probably mean something similar to "ask after", but for "I called my sister to ask about Batman" I would expect answers like "The newest Batman movie is terrible" or "Batman's birthday is April 7" rather than information about Batman's current health or recent activities (unless my sister had a cat named Batman).


This information might be regional, so to be specific this answer reflects my personal experience living largely in the "Midwest" part of the United States. It's possible that "ask after" or "check in on" would be more common or preferred in other parts of the country.

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    Nice distinction between check on and check in on. Nice answer all around in fact.
    – EllieK
    Oct 11, 2022 at 17:40
  • As a fellow Midwesterner (with stints on the East coast and a fair bit of time in the Intermountain West, too), I'd agree with this answer. However, having watched a fair bit of British TV, I'm familiar with "ask after", and I'd say you've nailed that, too. Oh, and I didn't know that Batman's birthday was April 7th - I'll add that to my calendar! :)
    – FreeMan
    Oct 12, 2022 at 12:14
  • +1, definitely think “check on” is the more likely thing to say than “check in on” in the context of a phone call. I’d say that “to call on someone” still reads to me (northeast USA) as an in-person visit—an old-fashioned phrasing, but not one that has been repurposed for phone calls in my experience. (In fact, the more likely confusion for that particular phrase is that the speaker is a teacher who asked the someone to answer a question during class.)
    – KRyan
    Oct 13, 2022 at 18:13
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Another option is simply "I called my mom to ask how she was doing" or "to ask how she was." I might also say "to find out how she was doing." This wording implies that the conversation is less direct: I may not specifically ask my mom, "How are you doing," but I will learn how she is doing through talking with her, listening to how her voice sounds, and so on. (That said, it is very natural to start a conversation by asking, "How are you?" or "How are you doing?")

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    Along these lines, I also I might say "I called my mom to see how she was doing".
    – topsail
    Oct 13, 2022 at 17:56
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I called my mom to catch up with her.

Echoing the answer from @fussylizard, I think this is the closest approximation to "ask after" in American English. "Check (in) on" might carry the implication that there is a particular issue you want to bring up, but I feel like most Americans would understand it to be more general. "Catching up with" is typically more casual.

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  • I would say "catching up" doesn't have the connotation of seeing if someone is ok, but is more about finding out what they have been up to since you last spoke. Perhaps too subtle a distinction, but that's what came to mind.
    – nasch
    Oct 13, 2022 at 15:15
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When I call my parents I'll often say something like "I'm just calling to check in. I don't have any particular news." So I think it's fine to say this in general. However, someone could interpret it as you are enquiring about a specific situation (health condition, etc.), or that you have some obligation to call. For example, you may be obligated to "check in" with a parole officer if a court has mandated it as part of a release program from jail.

Another option would be "I called my mom to catch up." This just means you are calling to say hi, share how you are both doing in general, etc. without any particular connotation of checking on an issue of some sort.

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I’d like to suggest:

I called [my] mom.

Most conversations in American English among family and/or friends at some point include asking "how are you?" in one way or another. Even the simple, "’sup?" is an open door to respond with more detail if desired.

Most of the time, instigating a conversation with your mother implies that you’re checking up on her and also updating her on your life. This may not be the case for contentious relationships where a call is required even though it is not desired, but this is the exception more than the rule, in my experience.

Very similar but slightly different is:

I called home.

For unmarried people, this usually means they called one or both parents. For married people, it’s much more likely they called their spouse at their shared residence.

Finally, there’s another variant of the “check” construction (beyond checked in and checked) which is:

I checked up on mom.

This could apply to an in-person visit also, so an American might say, "I called to check up on mom," if they want to be clear it was a phone call (or FaceTime or Zoom or whatever). As you probably know, Americans almost never use "call" to mean an in-person visit.

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The simplest change to a common American phrase is to use "about" instead of "after".

I called my mom to ask about her.

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Someone said this in the body of an answer above, but didn't give it as their answer, so I will do so here.

They wrote "If you call your mom to see how she is ...", and what we call this in the US and Canada is "Calling your mom to see how she is (doing)." :-)

So I think a better answer is

  • I called my mom to see how she is. (??)
  • I called my mom to see how she is/was doing.
  • I called my mom to see how she's doing.

I think the last sounds the most natural, the middle one is fine, although a bit more formal for not using a contraction, and the first one is okay but feels a bit off.

(This happens a bit on ell.stackexchange: people use the exact, spot-on, natural sounding phrasing to explain or support a vaguely stilted answer.)

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  • to see how how?
    – AcK
    Oct 13, 2022 at 19:46
  • @ack - D'oh! I should learn to give one last read through after any editing. Thanks for letting me know.
    – JonathanZ
    Oct 14, 2022 at 13:17

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