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I came across the phrase "誰か行きたい人" in this thread and I think it would be used in a context like "誰か行きたい人がいるか?".

However I am kind of confused by how it works grammatically. Is 誰か行きたい a relative clause modifying 人, while it is at the same time implied that this 誰か and 人 are the same entity?

Is it similar in this way to a sentence like 太郎はメアリがリンゴをむいたそのリンゴを食べた。?

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I'd say it's not a double-headed relative clause, because it's actually

誰か[[[行きたい]人]いる]?

That is to say, 誰か is modifying the full predicate of 「行きたい人いる?」.

You can scramble to 「行きたい人誰かいる?」, which supports that 誰か is not in the relative clause.


However, even with this analysis, it is a somewhat confusing grammatical structure, since 行きたい人 and 誰か could both be seen to be semantically pointing to the same entity. This raises the question, are they both grammatical subjects?

I think it might be possible to see this as a "double-subject construction" (which is a poor name IMO, despite being used in the linguistic literature), where you can analyze the sentence as having a clausal predicate:

? 行きたい人は[誰かがいる]?

Note that it's odd to really use particles in a question sentence (it's more natural to use the zero particle), but I think it is borderline possible here as a linguistic exercise, and supports the double-subject construction analysis...

The following declarative sentence seems to work slightly better:

行きたい人は誰かがいるはず。

But even then it’s awkward.

The original word order is even less open to particle insertion IMO, though:

?? 誰かが行きたい人いる?
? 誰かが行きたい人はいるはず。

Due to the unnaturality of the above sentences, I think it's best to understand 誰か as an 'adverb' or 'modifier' in these sentences as opposed to a grammatical subject, even though it can serve as a grammatical subject in other cases (like 「誰かがいる。」 or 「誰かいる?」).

Supporting evidence for the adverb analysis can be found by drawing a parallel 何か, like 「何か質問ありますか?」 or 「何か質問あったら(…)」, where 何か is even more opposed to being marked by が.

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  • I have always wondered how it can be explained that while it is: 何も食べない, it is 何か食べなくてはいけない. (も->か), as I would naively think that the first clause before は, "not eat(ing) anything" would be considered one block of negative polarity and therefore require も. Is this also because it is actually parsed as [何か] (adverb modifying) [食べなくてはいけない] (must eat) ? Or would this sentence allow for inserting を? – JMC Feb 4 at 0:34
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    を is acceptable there, however it for whatever reason it is not negative polarity. あんまり食べない is fine but あんまり食べなくてはいけない doesn’t make sense as well. – Darius Jahandarie Feb 4 at 2:43
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I think that here 誰か doesn’t mean who but somebody. Moreover , it has an adjectival function.

If you regard 誰か as an adjective i.e. translate it as “any” instead of “anybody”, then the structure becomes obvious.

“ Is there (いるか) any (誰か) person who wants to go (行きたい人)? “

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