Italian language: Ci or Ne?
- WTI Magazine #142 Aug 18, 2021
Welcome back! We’re back to our brief grammar tips and this time I would like to talk about the particles ci and ne. I know that they are quite hard to grasp and use and many of my students find them to be quite a conundrum, but I hope my explanation will help you understand them better!
Let’s start with ci. Ci can have different roles in a sentence. The first use of ci is the ci that substitutes the direct object noi or indirect object a noi, meaning respectively “us” and “to us.” For example: “Can you give us a ride?” – ci date un passaggio? − or “He gave the book to us/he gave us the book” – Ci ha dato il libro. Be careful though, English and Italian verbs work differently, and some English verbs might require a different preposition from “to.”
The second type of ci simply overlaps with the use of “ourselves.” It is used with reflexive verbs when the subject is “we:” ci svegliamo sempre alle 5 per andare a correre – We always wake up at 5a.m. to go for a jog (svegliarsi – to wake up – in Italian is a reflexive verb). But it can also mean “each other,” like in the sentence ci vediamo domani pomeriggio allora? – Let’s see each other tomorrow then.
Ci is also used in the fixed locution ci sono – “there are.” Ci sono sempre dei bei concerti in quel locale – There are always nice concerts at that pub. In this case, you don’t have to remember anything in particular, just remember that “there are” in Italian is ci sono (and that it is followed by a plural noun!).
Let’s take a step forward and see this slightly harder use: when ci means “there.” Let’s see an example first: − Sei mai stato in Italia? – Sì, ci sono stato due anni fa. (− Have you ever been to Italy? – Yes, I have been there two years ago.) In this case, you would use ci when you do not want to repeat the place (Italy) but you still want to be clear. You could say Sì, sono stato in Italia due anni fa, but when speaking we want to use efficient language, and in this case, it doesn’t sound all that natural to repeat “Italy.” Another example is – Come vai al lavoro? – Ci vado in macchina. (− How do you go to work? – I drive there.) Here, you could have simply answered “I drive,” but by adding “there” the sentence sounds a bit more clear and complete, and your answer doesn’t seem as curt.
Now let’s take the big leap: ci meaning a questa/quella cosa or a questa/quella persona. Here’s where it becomes tricky. a questa/quella cosa means “about this/that thing” and a questa/quella persona means ““about this/that person.” For example: − Sei abituato a stare così tanto al sole? – Sì, ci sono abituato. “−Are you used to being under the sun for so long? – Yes, I am used to it.” The answer could have been: Sì, sono abituato a stare così tanto sotto il sole – Yes, I am used to being so long under the sun; however, it would have been redundant. You may ask: And could you say Sì, sono abituato a questo? (Yes, I am used to this) It is not grammatically incorrect, but in Italian we do not like to use the pronouns questo and quello as much as in English, we prefer using words like ci and ne instead. I want you to pay attention to the fact that the verb in Italian was followed by the preposition a. I do not want you to be too caught up with the translation because what it is more important here is the Italian preposition a not the English preposition “about.” As I said before, English and Italian verbs work differently, and English verbs often require the use of a different preposition from Italian verbs, so do not think: “Oh, in English I would say ‘About this thing’ so I can use ‘ci’” because that will mess you up completely. Abituarsi, in the example, is followed by the preposition a, therefore you will often hear ci used with it. How do you know and remember which verb wants which preposition? I am afraid the only answer is with practice and experience.
But enough of ci, let’s move onto ne. Well, do you remember when a couple of lines ago I said to focus on the Italian preposition and not on the English one, otherwise it will be a big mess? The reason for it is ne. Ne is used instead of di lei, di lui, di loro “about her, about him, about them” and di questo/quello, “of/about this/that.” Here’s some example Luca viveva in una grande famiglia e ne ha sempre nostalgia – Luca used to live with a big family, and he always is nostalgic of them (avere nostalgia di). A Federica piace molto la ginnastica ritmica, ne parla sempre. Federica loves rhythmic gymnastics, she always speaks about it (parlare di). But the most common and confusing example is with the verb “think:” Ho sentito che Marco ha deciso di comprare casa. Cosa ne pensi? “I’ve heard that Marco decided to buy a new house. What do you think (about it)?” Ne stands for that “about it.” But why ne and not ci? Because in this case it’s pensare di questo – think about this (remember we do not use “this” and “that” much in Italian!) so the verb pensare is followed by the preposition di. However if you were to say: Non riesco a togliermi quella scena dalla testa. Ci penso sempre. “I can’t get over that scene. I keep on thinking about it.” In this case, you’ll use ci, because the verb is pensare a qualcosa/qualcuno, the preposition used is a. What’s the difference you might ask…well, in Italian the difference is huge. In the first case pensare is more about the opinion, in the second case is about who or what you are actually thinking of.
Last but not least, there’s the ne that means “of it/of them/of that” and it is often used together with un po’, qualcuna/o (“some”) or a number or a unit. In this case, ne replaces a direct object that is accompanied by a quantity. For example: − Hai visto che belle margherite? Ne raccolgo un po’. −Did you see what beautiful daisies? −I’ll pick some (of them). Or −Vuoi un po’ di pasta? – Sì, ne prendo un piatto, grazie. −Do you want some pasta? – Yes, I’ll take a serving (of it), please. Unfortunately, even if “of them” and “of that” can be left out in English, you cannot get away without ne in Italian. The quantity must refer to something and ne is that something. This is the hardest to grasp, but at the same time I think it is the easiest to get used to, because it is something that you’ll hear often and won’t even see as a grammatical issue, but simply as something that is said that way. You just need to be exposed to the Italian as much as possible and you’ll find yourself using it without even knowing it, I promise.
What’s left to say? Ci vediamo a settembre!