Here's the sentence I can't figure out, 'are you feeling unwell because you ate too much?' (It's from the Cambridge Dictionary)
Does it ask:
- the reason I am feeling unwell
- whether I am feeling unwell or not?
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If I heard this question, I’d assume I looked unwell and that the person was asking me if that was the reason. If I wanted to ask whether someone who ate a lot is feeling unwell, I might ask something like,
That was a big meal. Are you feeling unwell at all?
The “at all” weakens the implication that they look unwell. Or,
Are you feeling unwell after eating that much?
However, depending on the situation, it could be considered rude (I live in America) to comment on how much someone else ate.
To a child in my family I was trying to teach not to overeat, maybe something like,
Did eating too much make you feel sick?
It definitely sounds judgmental and patronizing, so avoid saying things like that in most situations.
The question is ambiguous. It's asking about two facts, and either one could have motivated the question.
If the speaker knows you're unwell, then they're asking whether the cause was eating too much.
But if the speaker doesn't know you're unwell, then they're asking whether you're unwell, and suggesting a cause.
It's a classic Groucho situation. Groucho Marx frequently told the joke: Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into them I don't know.
The question is ambiguous.
It could be stating that you are unwell and asking if the cause is eating too much.
It could be stating that you ate too much and asking if it made you unwell.
Then the Groucho version:
It could be asking if you are unwell, and giving the reason for asking the question as "you ate too much."
As others have mentioned, it's grammatically ambiguous.
But based on common sense, it almost certainly asks why you're feeling unwell. Either you've already told the other person that you're not feeling well, or it's obvious.
This is because it's not very idiomatic to ask two separate questions at once like that. When mentioning a cause in a question, the question is usually about the cause, not the result. Other answers have shown how we would usually phrase the question if #2 were intended.
As punctuated, it asks for the reason you are feeling unwell. The other possible meaning could be unambiguously written as
Are you feeling unwell? Because you ate too much!
To make it truly ambiguous, add a comma:
Are you feeling unwell, because you ate too much?
It is not clear (to me, anyway) which of the two meanings this sentence has.