I need to ask you a question. = (less commonly) I need to ask a question of you.
(Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s, ask #1)

You cannot say ‘ask to somebody’: *I asked to my friend what had happened.
(OALD, ask #1)

When you ask questions, ‘ask to somebody’ cannot be used, says OALD. What about the next example? It’s the pattern of Merriam-Webster’s, but whose bracket ‘less commonly’ makes me to wonder if this sentence can be used.

[next example] I asked what had happened of my friend.

  • The "of" form is used much more commonly with "favor". I need to ask a favor of you. I need to ask you a favor. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 23 '14 at 12:03
  • And by the above comment, I mean "ask a favor of you" is more common than "ask a question of you". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 23 '14 at 12:13
  • 2
    The preposition of in these contexts is usually dated/archaic/formal/literary. Perhaps for that reason you still encounter it in formal request contexts like "I need to ask a favour of you" (129 hits in Google Books). But even there most native speakers would say "I need to ask you a favour" (1540 hits). In short, it's probably best forgotten (or never learned! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 13:50
  • @FumbleFingers It's ridiculous to tell someone to never learn a phrase that one commonly encounters in contemporary English, namely I need to ask a favor of you. It is also not the case that this phrase is always formal, and it is certainly not dated. – user6951 Oct 23 '14 at 17:57
  • 2
    @Carsmack: the construction is rare enough to make me think of one specific song immediately, though: All I ask of you – oerkelens Oct 24 '14 at 6:32

If you're going to use the "of" form, you would need to reference the person being asked:

I asked of him what had become of my friend.

But this would be something you might have heard in Shakespeare's day. enter image description here


It means the same thing as

I asked my friend what happened.

The form "I asked of my friend what happened" is grammatically correct, but it is simply archaic, and as such not often used anymore. The easier option, without preposition, is also the one you will see most often used, so (for once?) the easy option is the best one.

Some extra background, just informational, about the specific sentence:

Because it is not commonly used, it may actually cause confusion, because people may think you mean to say:

I asked what happened to my friend.

I actually read the sentence in you question initially like that, "correcting" the preposition in my head, because I wrongly assumed you used the wrong preposition.

So you might give people the feeling you mean something else than what you say, even though what you say is grammatically correct. Since communication aims at getting the right message across, I think it is better to use I asked my friend to avoid sounding archaic, and possibly, confusion.

  • I don't agree. I think no native speaker would make the misunderstanding you suggest, and we don't adjust our syntax to address potential difficulties for non-native speakers. We just wouldn't normally use the of form because it's dated/formal, as per my comment to the question. – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 13:54
  • @FumbleFingers I have been "corrected" at least twice by native speakers who told me I should use "to" in that (kind of) sentence. Maybe they were quite special... – oerkelens Oct 23 '14 at 14:01
  • Hmm - "special" as in "special needs student", perhaps. No normal native speaker ever asks something to someone. It just so happens that you might ask someone what happened to someone else (or what happened in some place, or at some time). But these are not remotely confusing or ambiguous preposition usages (for native speakers! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 14:06
  • @FumbleFingers: I never stated a native speaker would say that. I said that a native speaker might think I mean to as in what happened to my friend if I say "I asked what happened of my friend". The confusion stems from the non-native using an archaic construction in a sentence that with another preposition would be completely idiomatic, leading the native speaker to the assumption that the learner made a mistake. Also native speakers of normal mental capacity do sometimes display an emphatic will to try and help learners. – oerkelens Oct 23 '14 at 14:30
  • oic. Well, I've made a "non-edit" to your answer so I could retract the downvote, but I have to point out that nowhere in your answer does it mention that the reason we don't usually use of there is because in most contexts it's dated/archaic. I really don't think potential ambiguity and/or non-native speaker errors are particularly relevant to current idiomatic usage for native speakers. – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 14:40

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