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When I translate "Who did Mario call?" and "Who called Mario?" using Google Translate I get "Chi ha chiamato Mario" for both cases. So is the Italian question ambiguous in this sense?

What if I absolutely need to, to save my life, make the other person understand that I mean to ask "who called Mario?" and not "who did Mario call?" (or the other way around)? I'm asking this because I was pretty much in this situation during my Italian lessons trying to ask this very question, in Italian, to my Italian teacher, but I couldn't find a way to make the distinction, so I kept repeating "Chi ha chiamato Mario" trying to make emphasis on different words, but apparently I didn't manage get my point across so I gave up and decided to ask here.

The weird thing is that you can make the distinction in first person: "Chi ti ha chiamato?" vs "Chi hai chiamato?" so I guess it should be possible to also make it on third person if you absolutely have to.

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    Why weird? In that case the subject and the object are a 2nd and a 3rd person.
    – DaG
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 22:06
  • Please note that a sort of ambiguity could be already present in the second english phrase, at least for an italian or a spanish speaker. The answer below correctly uses whom, that clarifies the phrase. Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 6:50
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    Interessante, non lo avevo mai notato!
    – mario
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 10:11

1 Answer 1

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Yes, it's ambiguous and usually understood from the context. The ambiguity ensues from the fact that both "chi" and "Mario" are in the third person, so the verb could be referring to either, and either could be subject or direct object. To express it unambiguously, you could use the passive forms, for example:

Chi è stato chiamato da Mario? (Who was called by Mario?)

Da chi è stato chiamato Mario? (By whom was Mario called?)

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