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As you’ve probably learned with prepositions, the smaller the word the more complex the meaning.
The tiny words “ne” and “ci” aren’t spared here either.
They can be equally, if not more, confusing.
However, I’ve done my best to break them down into speed dates for you so you can FINALLY make sense of these little, frustrating enemies.
And maybe, just maybe, you can find the space to draw up a treaty with them.
Once you start giving them more attention, I promise they’ll begin to make more sense to you. This is true even if you get more confused at first. That’s okay. It’s part of the process.
This will definitely happen as you’re listening to the small words as your brain will try and catch them and figure out the meaning. It will take time.
Remember though that challenging concepts are good for your brain. Enjoy them.
Also because of the complexity these speed dates are waaaaay longer than usual.
Just imagine that your speed date just keeps talking and talking and talking and the moderator has fallen asleep so there is no one to ring the bell.
Round 1: Ne
When you see the little word “ne”, a couple of phrases you already know might come to mind.
— Che ne dici? – What do you say about it?
Or if you’re like me, you think of this oh-so-kind phrase:
— Vattene! – Get lost!
So what does “ne” really mean?
— Of it
— Of them
— About it
— About them
It’s like in English when we ask:
— Frazzled human 1: How many children are here?!
— Frazzled human 2: There are fourteen of them!
The “of them” is where “ne” would clock in and happily do its job.
To mean “of them”
A.) Frazzled human 1: Quanti bambini ci sono?!
A.) Frazzled human 2: Ce ne sono quattordici!
B.) Well-traveled human 1: Quanti paesi hai visitato in Europa? – How many countries have you visited in Europe?
B.) Well-traveled human 2: Ne ho visitati venti. – I’ve visited twenty of them.
To mean “of it”
A.) Pleasant human 1: Hai del succo di mela? – Do you have some apple juice?
A.) Pleasant human 2: Sì! Ne ho. – Yes. I have it.
B.) Well-read human 1: Ho appena letto quello libro! Che ne pensi? – I just read that book! What do you think of it?
That last example is a perfect segue into the next way to use “ne”, which is with verbs like “pensare di”.
Instead of saying “What did you think of the book?” you can simply point and say:
— “What did you think of it?”
“The book” is replaced by “of it”. So “libro” is replaced by “ne”.
This also happens with verbs like:
— Avere bisogno di – To need
— Parlare di – To talk about
— Essere contento di – To be happy about
What happens if you use “ne” with the past tense?
If you use “ne” in the past tense, you have to make sure that the verb, in this case “read”, agrees in number and gender.
— Quanti libri hai letto di Paulo Coelho? – How many books have you read from Paulo Coelho?
— Ne ho letti quattro. – I’ve read four of them.
There are lots of other verbs that take “ne” (called pronominal verbs) and while I won’t go into detail about them here, you should know that they exist in the meantime.
— Andarsene – to leave
— Farne a meno – to do less about it
— Venirsene – to come out of it
— Averne abbastanza – to have enough of something
— Fregarsene di qualcosa – to not care at all about something
— Non poterne più – to not be able to do (something) anymore
— Uscirsene – to come out with
Now pretend your moderator woke up, so you get to go on a speed date with “ci” next.
Still looking for more explanation?
Check out these great videos by native speakers:
— Lucrezia Oddone – Learn Italian Grammar: NE (adverb + pronoun)
— Sgrammaticando – Grammatica Italiana: L’uso di NE
Round 2: Ci
Where are you already used to seeing the little word “ci”?
Most likely you’ve seen and used it a lot with the phrase:
— Ci sono – There are
What you might not have noticed is that you always use it when you use the phrase:
— C’è – There is
You can’t tell that it’s “ci” because it’s been shortened and pushed into the verb “è”.
In full, it would look like “ci è”.
To give you an overview, here are the definitions:
Let’s look at the last one on that list first.
Just like the two phrases we’ve mentioned above (c’è + ci sono), you’ve probably seen “ci” used a lot to mean “us”.
This is because you’ll typically see it with reflexive verbs, or the verbs that talk about actions you do to yourself, like washing yourself.
Want to review reflexive verbs? Click here: Present Tense Reflexive Verbs in Italian (or the verb tense that’s all about you)
An example of this comes from the reflexive verb “sentirsi” meaning “to have communication between people”.
You see this come out with the phrase: “Ci sentiamo”, meaning “We’ll talk to each other” or “We’ll be in touch”.
While that definition is important, we’re looking at the first three on the list because those are the ones that are more than likely tripping you up.
“Ci” replaces the prepositions “in, a, su, and da”
I think it’s funny that small words replace other smaller words.
In this case, “ci” can be used to replace these prepositions when they’re talking about a location, like your house or the dentist’s office:
A.) Wonderful human 1: Domani mattina andrai dal dentista? – Tomorrow morning are you going to the dentist?
A.) Wonderful human 2: No, non ci andrò. – No, I will not go there.
B.) Incredible human 1: Oggi sto organizzando una festa. Vieni stasera? – Today I’m planning a party. Are you coming tonight?
B.) Incredible human 2: Sì! Ci vengo. Arriverò alle 6. – Yes! I’m coming. I will arrive at 6.
Sometimes the spelling of “ci” will change to “ce”. When does this happen? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Let’s find out.
A.) Forgetful human 1: Dove ho messo il mio telefonino? In camera mia? – Where did I put my cellphone? In my room?
A.) Human with a good memory 2: Te ne sei dimenticato? Sì. Ce l’ hai là. – You forgot? Yes. It is there.
When you put “ci” before a direct object, like “lo”, it changes to “ce”.
It’s like when you date someone new and you forget to be yourself and you start to adapt some of their qualities. (Cowboy hats. Really?)
That’s KIND OF what this is like.
So when you see the direct object pronouns (lo, la, le, li) next to “ci”, just remember that “ci” will change its personality, or its spelling, to adapt.
It will also change when combined with our first speed date “ne”.
A.) Happy human 1: Mi hai portato della pizza? – You brought me some pizza?
A.) Happy human 2: Sì! Ce ne sono due! – Yes! There are two of them!
Using “ci” with the verb “volerci”
An incredibly useful verb “volerci” comes with uses of “ci” and a lovely story.
I was talking to my friend whom I used to affectionately call Pavone for his peacock-style hair, and he was telling me about his girlfriend from Spain who he had dated long-distance for a year before they broke up.
When discussing whether long distance can work, he said: Ci vuole coraggio. – It takes courage.
“Volerci” means “it takes, it needs”.
You can use it in two ways:
Use this one when the following word is singular, like courage or one hour.
— Ci vuole coraggio. – It takes courage.
— Ci vuole un’ora per camminare dal centro a casa mia, quindi prendiamo la moto! – It takes one hour to walk from the center of the city to my house, so let’s take the motorbike!
Use this one when the following word is plural, like minutes or hours.
— Ci vogliono trenta minuti per andare da casa mia al centro. – It takes thirty minutes for going from my house to the center of the city.
— Di solito ci vogliono due ore per andare da Viterbo a Roma, ma ieri mattina, ci sono voluti novanta minuti. – Usually it takes two hours to go from Viterbo to Roma, but yesterday morning it took ninety minutes.
“Ci” can be used with certain verbs followed by “a”
This is equivalent of using “ci” as “it”.
A.) Beautiful human 1: Have you thought about going to university in Germany?
A.) Beautiful human 2: Nope. I haven’t thought about it yet.
The “it” in the sentence above is what “ci” would stand in for.
Pensare + a – to think of
— Beautiful human 1: Hai pensato di andare all’università in Germania?
— Beautiful human 2: No. Non ci ho ancora pensato.
Credere + a – to believe in
— Lovely human 1: Credi nel paradiso? – Do you believe in Heaven?
— Lovely human 2: Sì. Certo. Ci credo. – Yes. Of course. I believe in it.
Riuscire + a – to be able to, to succeed at
— Slightly annoyed human 1: Riesci ad arrivare puntuale stasera? – Can you arrive early tonight?
— Slightly annoyed human 2: Sì. Ci riesco. – Yes I can do it.
Tenere + a – to keep, to hold close (in a loving sense)
— Curious human 1: Come stanno il tuo cane? – How is your dog?
— Bubbly, loving human 2: Sta benissimo. Ci tengo molto. – It is doing really well. I adore it.
There are lots of other verbs that take “ci” and while I won’t go into detail about them here, you should know that they exist in the meantime.
— Avercela – to be mad at someone
— Entrarci – to have something to do with
— Farcela – to be able to do something
— Metterci – to take time
— Mettercela tutta – to try one’s hardest
— Rifletterci – to think something over
— Passarci sopra – to pass over
— Provarci – to try at doing something
— Sentirci – to be able to hear
— Vederci – to meet
These verbs will probably take up the next three or four speed date articles!
Still looking for more explanation?
Check out these great videos by native speakers:
— Lucrezia Oddone – Learn Italian: The Use of Ci
— Sgrammaticando – Grammatica Italiana: L’uso di CI nella lingua Italiana
Your moderator woke up again. The speed date rounds are FINALLY over. :]
Questions? Comments? Leave them in the comments below.