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How do you say “I‘m asking the boy for his name.”?


https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-french/ask

I am confused because Collins dictionary says that the correct construction is « demander qch à qn » = to ask somebody for something.

Therefore, « Je demande son nom au garçon. » should be correct. Please look at the screenshot.

However, Google Translate says that the answer is « Je demande au garçon son nom. ». If Google Translate is correct then the correct construction is

« demander qn à qch » = to ask somebody for something.

Who is correct? Or is it the case that « demander qn à qch » = « demander qch à qn ». ?

Thanks for your help. 😊enter image description here

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  • 2
    Both the Collins and Google Translate are correct. You misinterpret what GT suggests.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 8 '20 at 13:46
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If Google were correct it would be "demander à qn qqc" and not "demander qn à qqc.

The question is then to know whether on top of "demander qqc à qn" you can also say "demander à qn qqc". The answer is that both are right, depending on the COD (complément d'object direct).

1/ If the COD is short the first form is used in most cases. How short is difficult to evaluate; it can be somewhat long but not too much.

  • J'ai demandé un café à Anne.
  • La police a demandé ses papiers à Jean.

2/ If the COD is rather long then the second form is used.

  • Il a demandé à Aline un des album photo qu'elle ne prête à personne.
    (Compare "Il a demandé un de ses albums photo à Aline.")
  • Il a demandé à Aline un de ses albums photo du temps de ses années d'école en pensionnat.
    (Wouldn't do: Il a demandé un de ses albums photo du temps de ses années d'école en pensionnat à Aline)

3/ When the COD is a clause (short or long), then the second form is the only one usable.

  • Ils ont demandé au maitre d'école qu'il leur donne moins de devoirs.
  • L'administration demande aux élèves qu'ils portent des masques.

4/ Here are two exceptions.

a) You want to make clear what has been asked to someone who is inquiring about it just after you said what was asked or you want to insist upon the fact.

  • Il a demandé à Anne un café, oui, un café.

b) In an enumeration in which you want to emphasize the list of people being asked you might use the second possibility when the COD is short.

  • Il a demandé à Anne un café, à Pierre une cigarette et à Jean de lui faire son devoir de latin.

Your example

  • Je demande son nom au garçon.
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  • Thank you so very much for this detailed answer!!! It’s very helpful! 😊 I do have 2 questions if that’s okay. (1) I learnt from Collins dictionary that “demander à qn de faire qch” means “to ask sb to do sth. Therefore, what is the function of “lui” in “... à Jean de lui faire son devoir de latin" or is this a typo? (2) Please correct me if I’m wrong, but COD means “complément d’object direct” which means “direct object” but aren’t we dealing with COI (complément d’object indirect) i.e. indirect objects? collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-french/ask
    – CubbyKushi
    Sep 8 '20 at 18:56
  • @CubbyKushi (1) "Lui" is here the third person pronoun (masculine and feminine) that stands for "il", in function of "complément d'attribution"; in the present case it is "complément d'attribution" rather than COI (2 possibilities) because "il" (lui) receives something (the homework is being given to him); however, the verb is "faire": "faire qch à qn". The whole construction is this one: "demander à qn de faire qch à qn (COD of "demander"); (1/2)
    – LPH
    Sep 8 '20 at 19:18
  • @CubbyKushi when the pronounn is used the preposition is not used (Jean a demandé à Pierre de faire une farce à Marie. Jean a demandé à Pierre (COI) de lui (Marie) faire une farce (COD de "faire").). (2) You are right, except that both are found here. (2/2)
    – LPH
    Sep 8 '20 at 19:22
  • Lol, so I’m still at a beginner level in french so I don’t really understand a lot of what you said.😅😬 But I think I understand why “lui” is used. Is it because “faire qch à qn” means “to do sth for sb”? If that is true then “Il a demandé à Pierre de faire les devoirs à Marie.” means “ He asked Pierre to do the homework for Marie.” which turns into “Il a demandé à Pierre de lui faire les devoirs.” Is that correct?
    – CubbyKushi
    Sep 8 '20 at 20:32
  • @CubbyKushi It can be "for" or "against": "Il lui a donné un livre." but also "Il lui a pris un livre.". Yes, your understanding of the "Pierre and marie" example is correct.
    – LPH
    Sep 8 '20 at 20:36

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