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To inquire (about sth.): Meaning, Usage & Examples

To inquire (about sth.): Meaning, Usage & Examples

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There are different types of verbs. Transitive verbs take a direct object. For instance, you say, “I read the book” and “they saw the game.” On the other hand, intransitive verbs need no direct object.

This is why you can say “I jumped” or “they ran,” and you would have a complete sentence consisting of only two words.

However, some verbs fail to fall into the different categories easily, making it hard to know how to use them definitively. A case in point is the verb “inquire,” which is neither transitive nor intransitive.

But, before we explain what “inquire” is, let’s look at a few use cases first, starting with how to use “inquire about something” in a sentence.


How do you use “inquire about something” in a sentence?

“To inquire about something” means to ask about it. So, when you “inquire about the game,” you are asking about the game, and a synonymous sentence would be, “he asked about the game.” Nevertheless, “ask” and “inquire” are not always interchangeable, and we will see why in a minute.

It is also worth noting that there is a certain sense of ambiguity.

In other words, when you say “he inquired about the game,” it’s not exactly clear what he asked about. Was he asking what time the game started? Or, did he want to know who was playing?

Perhaps, he just wanted to know whether there were any tickets left. These are all unanswered possibilities.

To make matters clearer, you should say “he inquired about the time of the game,” “he inquired about who was playing in the game,” or “he inquired about whether there were any tickets left.”


A closer look at “inquire about something”

The expression “to inquire about something” is composed of two parts. You have the verb “to inquire,” and then there is the prepositional phrase “about something” that acts as the verb’s complement.

The prepositional phrase in itself is also worth looking at closely. The noun that follows the preposition, “the something,” can be a noun or even a nominal phrase, and the entire expression still holds.

Let me clarify this last part with the following examples.

He inquired about the weather.

He inquired about what the weather would be like tomorrow.

In the first example, the “something” being inquired about is the noun “the weather.”

However, in the second example, the “something” is the nominal phrase “what the weather would be like tomorrow.” This is fine because nominal phrases behave like nouns.

What the weather would be like tomorrow was a complete mystery to all of us.


Does “inquire” need to always be followed by a prepositional phrase?

Not necessarily. You can use “inquire” without a prepositional phrase, but you will have to use a nominal phrase. You can’t use a noun on its own.

WRONG: “He inquired the weather.”

CORRECT: “He inquired what the weather would be tomorrow.”

And, here lies the nuance.

The complements of “inquire” can be one of two things. They can be direct objects, in which case they must be sentential.

This means that they have to come in clause form, something that defines nominal phrases.

Alternatively, the complements of “inquire” can be prepositional phrases.

It is these restrictions that make it difficult to classify “inquire” as a purely transitive verb.


Why is “ask” not interchangeable with “inquire”


1. “Ask” can take a direct object, whereas “inquire” does not

“Ask,” however, is a bit different. When “ask” is followed by a direct object, this object doesn’t represent the question but rather the individual or entity being asked.

I asked the senator how long the situation would remain stagnant.

In the above example, “the senator,” the direct object of the verb “asked,” is a noun. “The senator” is also the person to whom the question was directed. And, the question can be surmised from the nominal phrase “how long the situation would remain stagnant.”

You cannot use “inquire” in the above example.

I inquired the senator how long the situation would remain stagnant.

The above example is correct. To correct it, it would have to be written as follows.

I inquired how long the situation would remain stagnant.

This is because “inquire” doesn’t care about to whom the question is posed. It only cares about the question being asked.


2. “Ask” has a few different meanings

While “inquire” always pertains to a question of sorts, “ask” can also mean to demand or request.

I asked for change.

Here, you are saying that you demanded or requested change.

I inquired for change.

The above sentence makes no sense. But, to make it sensible, you can do the following.

I inquired about change.

In this second usage of “inquired,” the meaning is that you posed a question about change, and the implication is that your question was a polite demand.


”Inquire” with different prepositional phrases

As mentioned earlier, “inquire” can take as its complement a prepositional phrase, and the first phrase we looked at was “about something.”

Can “inquire” be followed by other prepositional phrases? And, would those change the meaning in any discernible way?

The answer is yes to both questions.


”Inquire of someone”

This means to ask someone a question. For, instance, going back to our earlier example, you can say the following.

I inquired of the senator about how long the situation would remain stagnant.

Now, the above sentence is grammatically correct and makes sense.


”Inquire after …”

“To inquire after …” means to ask about someone’s health.

She inquired after her colleague.

This just means that she asked about her colleague’s health.


”Inquire for…”

When you “inquire for someone,” you are asking to speak to them.

Martin was inquiring for Sara.


”Inquire into something”

“To inquire into something” means to investigate it or to look into it.

The detective was inquiring into the robbery case that happened last week.

In other words, the detective was investigating the case.