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The sentence: 守りたいのはあなた

This sentence can either mean "The one I want to protect is you" or it can mean "the one who wants to protect (someone else) is you". Any way to distinguish besides context?

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This sentence can either mean "The one I want to protect is you" or it can mean "the one who wants to protect (someone else) is you".

Yes, it can mean both.

Any way to distinguish besides context?

No, there is no way to distinguish besides context. But when you write a sentence like this, you can simply add a が-/を-phrase to disambiguate. When a が-marked phrase is already present before のは, あなた will be automatically interpreted as the object.

  • 僕が守りたいのはあなた。
    It's you who I want to protect.
  • 彼を守りたいのはあなた。
    It's you who wants to protect him.

Your sentence is a cleft sentence, but 守りたいあなた is already ambiguous. There are many similar questions:

For example 惚れたのは君だ means both "It's you who fell in love [to me]" and "It's you who [I] fell in love to". 好きなのは彼女だ means both "She loves [him]" and "[He] loves her".

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  • +1, but I think it also might not hurt to read this, so he/she could get clear on the subject/object distinction.
    – Mindful
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 2:51

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