When an embedded question is used as a relative clause, does the embedded question still have an interrogative function, or does it become purely descriptive?



Is this:

You read the book that David gave someone.


You read the book that David gave someone, and who did he give it to?

If it's the former, is this phenomenon completely general, wherein embedding a question makes the WH word interpretable as an indefinite pronoun?

  • It's the second - the sentence becomes interrogative.
    – NS.X.
    Aug 15, 2017 at 21:45
  • Are you trying to say: 1. 你看了的书,被大卫给谁? or 2. 你看见大卫把书给谁了吗?
    – Pedroski
    Aug 15, 2017 at 23:50
  • @Pedroski No doubt it's the 1st one. The 2nd makes no sense.
    – iBug
    Aug 16, 2017 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


Actually, the sentence itself is stilted and ambiguous in meaning.


The way to express your first idea(You read the book that David gave someone):


And the second one (You read the book that David gave someone, and who did he give it to?):

你看的那本书David给谁了?or 你看过的那本书David给谁了?

Both implies that you have read the book; you are questioning who David have given that book to.


First analyze the components of the sentence:

你看了大卫给谁的书? (should be a question mark here)

Here, 你 is the subject, 看了 is the predicative, and the phrase 大卫给谁的书 is the object. Actually, 书 is the object, and 大卫给谁的 is the attribute modifier.

So the sentence is basically 你看了书. The question is located in the attribute modifier, so it's asking about Who David give the book to.

A reference translation is

Who did David give the book (that you read) to?

(It just seems to be as confusing as the original Chinese sentence.)

  • You got the point. The sentence is valid grammatically, but its logic is confusing. The common sentence structure is “subject + predicate + object”. If you want to question 谁, 谁 got to be either subject or object in this sentence. However, the main parts of the sentence is 你看了书 and 谁 is just the part of the attribute modifier. If you change 谁 to 他, the sentence will make sense as a declarative, 你看了大卫给他的书。And if you really want to question 谁,you have to make it as an object in this case: 你看的那本书David给谁了?
    – dan
    Aug 17, 2017 at 2:08
  • @dan See my profile. I'm native to Chinese, not a foreign learner.
    – iBug
    Aug 17, 2017 at 4:08

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