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I have a question about how to interpret the word da in a context where it seems like it could mean either by or from. Consider this example sentence:

Da chi sono stati comprati questi guanti?

It seems to me like both of the following translations are possible:

By whom were these gloves bought? (i.e., who is the buyer?)

From whom were these gloves bought? (i.e., who is the seller?)

Which interpretation is correct?

  • I got the example sentence from page 233 (Chapter 17, Exercise A) of the book "L'italiano secondo il metodo natura". – Jacob Hoffman May 8 '19 at 20:36
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    It can mean both, depending on the context. But probably the second interpretation would be expressed with Dove sono stati comprati? – egreg May 8 '19 at 22:13
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    @egreg: What about converting your comment in an answer? – Charo May 9 '19 at 4:54
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There is no unique correct interpretation: it could mean both and only the context can suggest the intended meaning.

The preposition da is used with personal nouns or pronouns to mean motion to or state in: vado dal salumiere or sono dal dentista. By extension, we can use it also for ho comprato i guanti da Xyz. The English translation for such da would be at Xyz’s.

You're also right in thinking that da is the main proposition for denoting the agent in a passive form.

Thus the example is indeed ambiguous, because there is no grammatical way to distinguish between the two meanings. It's a bit artificial, though.

In the by meaning, an active form Chi ha comprato questi guanti? would be preferred. In the at/from meaning I'd personally ask Dove sono stati comprati questi guanti?

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