A long time ago I wrote an article in which I tried to explain the different meanings of the pronoun ne: Tricky little words: ne (click on the link to view the article). Following an e.mail from a friend, I’ve decided to revisit the topic concentrating on its practical use.
The word ne in Italian means “of it” or “of them”, and is used as a substitute in order to avoid repetition when talking about the quantity of something which has already been mentioned in the conversation. Technically it is known as a particella partitiva (literally: particle of a fraction). Let’s have a look at a few examples of how to use it:
Fruttivendolo: “Quante mele vuole?” Cliente: “Me ne dia due chili” (Greengrocer: “How many apples do you want?” Customer: “Give me two kilos of them”)
Gianni: “Hai mai visto un cinghiale dal vero?” Mario: “Recentemente ne ho visto uno vicino al fiume” (Gianni: Have you ever seen a wild boar from real?” Mario: “Recently I saw one of them near the river”)
Ti darei volentieri della marmellata di more, ma ne è rimasto un solo barattolo e mi serve per la crostata (I would gladly give you some blackberry jam, but there is only one jar of it left and I need it for the tart)
Luca: “Pensi di avere abbastanza mattonelle per finire il pavimento?” Geoff: “No, mi sa che me ne serviranno ancora una decina” (Luca: “Do you think you have enough tiles to finish the floor?” Geoff: “No, I think I’ll need another ten of them”)
N.B. When ne follows a personal pronoun such as ‘mi’ (me), ‘ci’ (us), ‘vi’(you plural) etc. the pronoun is modified in the following way: ‘me’ (me), ‘ce’ (us), ‘ve’ (you plural). Hence: me ne servono quattro (I need four of them), ‘più tardi ve ne do qualcuno ’ (I’ll give you [plural] some later on).
As you can see from the preceding example, ne is also used with an indefinite adjective/adverb which doesn’t specify an exact quantity, such as molto (many / much / a lot), poco (little / a few), qualcuno (some) e.g:
Maria: “Quanto pane c’è?” Carlo: “Ce n’è rimasto molto” (Maria: “How much bread is there?” Carlo: “there’s a lot of it left”)
Questa estate è stata terribile per i pomodori, ne abbiamo raccolti pochissimi (This summer has been terrible for the tomatoes, we picked very few of them)
È avanzato del gelato. Qualcuno ne vuole ancora un po’? (There’s some ice-cream leftover. Would anybody like some more?)
N.B. Whereas in English ‘of it’ / ‘of them’ is often left unstated, e.g. “I’ve got lots of tomatoes, would you like some (of them)?”, in Italian the ne should always be used, e.g. “Ho moltissimi pomodori, ne vuoi qualcuno?” (“I’ve got lots of tomatoes, would you like some of them?”).