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Tricky little words: “Ci” Posted by on Jul 27, 2009 in Grammar

Very often, in the process of learning a language it’s the little things that we find the hardest to get to grips with. It doesn’t take long when learning Italian for example to work out that soddisfazione  means ‘satisfaction’, eccellente means ‘excellent’, and that riabilitazione means ‘rehabilitation’. But ‘ci’, that little two letter word that seems to pop up everywhere, che cavolo significa? (what on earth does it mean?).

Probably the first usage of ‘ci’ that students of Italian come across is the pronome personale diretto o indiretto (direct or indirect personal pronoun), which in English translates as ‘us’, e.g. Giorgio ci ha invitato a cena (Giorgio has invited us to dinner); ci piace la pizza (we like pizza, literally ‘pizza pleases us’). We also use ci in the pronome riflessivo (reflexive pronoun) to mean ‘ourselves’, e.g. ci stiamo lavando le mani (we are washing our hands, literally ‘we are washing ourselves the hands). The third way in which we use ci as a  personal pronoun is in the pronome reciproco (reciprocal pronoun), where it has the meaning of ‘each other’ as in the famous phrase ‘arrivederci(lit. until we see each other).

Ci is also commonly used as an avverbio (adverb) with the meaning of ‘here’ or ‘there’, e.g. finalmente ci siamo (here we are at last), conosco bene Lucca perché ci ho abitato (I know Lucca well because I lived there), non c’è molto pane (there isn’t much bread), a Lucca ci sono molte chiese (there are lots of churches in Lucca). However, we often use ci even when it is made redundant by the use of qui (here) or (there), in effect creating a repetition, e.g. qui ci sto bene (I like it / feel at home here, or literally: here I like it here), or ci sei a casa questa pomeriggio? (will you be at home this afternoon?, or literally: will you be there at home this afternoon?).

Confused yet? Well I warn you, it’s going to get worse! So take a deep breath and we’ll take a look at the most confusing ci, the one that is incorporated into a verb, thereby changing its meaning. You will often notice this ci in the dictionary stuck onto the end of the infinitive. Here is a list of the most common ones, with examples of their usage:

Volerci = it requires, it needs e.g. per fare un tavolo ci vuole il legno (making a table requires wood, or to make a table you need wood); la pasta è quasi cotta, ci vogliono ancora 2 minuti (the pasta is nearly cooked, it needs another 2 minutes). N.B. the verb volerci agrees with the object that is needed in terms of number, i.e. ci vuole il legno = singular, ci vogliono2 minuti = plural.

Metterci = it takes, e.g. il treno per Milano ci mette due ore (the train to Milano takes two hours) N.B. unlike volerci, metterci changes in the plural to agree with the number of objects or persons that are ‘taking the time’ not the amount of time taken. Hence, il treno per Milano ci mette due ore, but i treni per Firenze ci mettono un’ora (the trains to Florence take two hours).

Starci = to agree, to accept, to join in, e.g. Maria ha detto che se andiamo in pizzeria lei ci sta (Maria said that if we are going to the pizzeria she will join us), Anna: scommettiamo 10 euro? Giovanni: Sì, ci sto! (Anna: Shall we bet 10 Euros? Giovanni: OK, I accept!)

Starci bene = it suits something, it goes well with. We have already seen an example of this redundant ci above in qui ci sto bene (I like it / feel at home here, or literally: here I like it here). Here are some more examples: con la pasta ci sta bene il Parmigiano (Parmigiano cheese goes well with pasta), in Italia ci sto bene (I feel at home / comfortable in Italy, Italy suits me)

In the following expressions, ci has the meaning of ‘about it’, ‘of it’, ‘in it / them’, etc.

Pensarci = to take care of something, e.g. non ti preoccupare, ci penso io! (don’t worry, I’ll take care of it)

Crederci = to believe in something, e.g. Giovanni: ci credi nei fantasmi? Anna: No, non ci credo (Giovanni: do you believe in ghosts? Anna: No, I don’t believe in them). N.B. the ci in the question ‘do you believe in ghosts?’ is redundant because the subject ‘ghosts’ has been stated.

Provarci = to have a go at something, e.g. Giovanni: hai mai sciato? Anna: No, mai. Giovanni: Dai, provaci! (Giovanni: Have you ever skied? Anna: No, never. Giovanni: Come on, have a go at it!)

Capirci = to understand about / of something e.g. non ci capisco nulla (I don’t understand anything about it, or I don’t understand any of it).

Farci = to do something about something, e.g. mi dispiace, ma non ci posso fare nulla (I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about it)

Starci = to fit in it, e.g. questo parcheggio è un po’ stretto. Pensi che la macchina ci stia? (This parking space is a bit small. Do you think the car would fit in it?), no non ci sta (no it doesn’t fit in it).

Finally, when we use a reflexive verb such as sentirsi or lavarsi in the impersonal form built with the impersonal pronoun si (one / you), we avoid having two sis following each other by changing the first one to ci, e.g. quando ci si sente male (when one feels ill, literally: when one feels oneself ill), prima di andare a letto ci si lava i denti (before going to bed one cleans his/her teeth, literally: before going to bed one cleans his/herself the teeth).

Just to confuse things a little bit more, when ci is followed by the object pronouns lo, la, li, le, (it, them) or ne (lit. of it/them), ‘ci’ changes into ce, e.g. Giovanni: Scusi, c’è un bar qui vicino? Anna: Si’, ce n’è uno all’angolo della piazza (Giovanni: Excuse me, is there a  bar near here? Anna: Yes, there is one on the corner of the square, or literally: there is one of them on the corner), questo quadro è molto costoso, non ce lo possiamo permettere (this painting is very expensive, we can’t afford it. Lit. we can’t allow ourselves it).

Now just for a bit of ‘fun’ here are a couple of sentences in which I’ve put as many different cis as possible:

1) ci andiamo domani pomeriggio dopo che ci siamo riposati, così vedremo se l’armadio ci sta. Se no, non so cosa possiamo farci

2) quando l’acqua bolle ci metto gli spaghetti, e poi ci vuole il sale. Gli spaghetti ci mettono 10 minuti a cuocere. Quando sono cotti si condiscono con l’olio e ci si macina un po’ di pepe fresco che ci sta bene.

My challenge for you is to translate the two sentences above, and to work out the correct meaning of each different ci. If you have read and understood this article you will have all the information you need for a correct translation! How many cis can you fit in one sentence?

Dai, provaci!

 

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Comments:

  1. Nathan:

    Here’s my stab at it:

    1) We’ll go there tomorrow afternoon after we have rested so we’ll see if the cupboard fits. If not I don’t know what we will do.

    2) When the water boils put in the spaghetti and then it needs (add) salt. The spaghetti takes 10 minutes to cook. When they are cooked flavor them with oil and grind a little pepper on them which goes well together.

  2. Gabi:

    Hi Serena,
    I have found your blog recently and I enjoy it a lot. Thank you very much for your effort and hard work I really appreciate it. Your blog is a big help for my studies.
    Grazie!
    Gabi

  3. andreas:

    Grazie mille per il blog.
    Ho letto in un libro di grammatica che ci sostituisce ai complemeti con le preposizioni: a, in. Come: vai allo stadio?–No, non ci vado.
    Che ne pensi?

  4. cinzia:

    loosely translated:
    1) ci andiamo domani pomeriggio dopo che ci siamo riposati, così vedremo se l’armadio ci sta. Se no, non so cosa possiamo farci
    1) We’ll go tomorrow afternoon, after we’ve rested, and see if the wardrobe fits. If not, I don’t know what we’re going to do.

    2) quando l’acqua bolle ci metto gli spaghetti, e poi ci vuole il sale. Gli spaghetti ci mettono 10 minuti a cuocere. Quando sono cotti si condiscono con l’olio e ci si macina un po’ di pepe fresco che ci sta bene.
    2) When the water boils I’ll put the spaghetti in, and then it will need salt. The spaghetti takes 10 minutes to cook. When it’s done, season with oil and grind some fresh black pepper which goes well with it.

    (I believe spaghetti is singular in inglese, but it sounds funny to call them “it”)

  5. Serena:

    Salve Andreas!

    Si’, quello che hai scritto è giusto, although the example you give doesn’t fit because the ‘ci’ in ‘non ci vado’ substitutes the place in question i.e. ‘allo stadio’.

    A better example would be: ‘vai allo stadio?’ ‘non lo so, ci penserò’ in which ‘ci’ substitutes ‘a questo’ (about it).

    Auguri!

  6. Andreas:

    Salve Serena,
    Ti ringrazio la risposta. Ma anche ‘allo stadio’ contiene la preposizione a ed è il complimento circostanziale di luogo.
    Auguri

  7. Serena:

    Salve Andreas, Sorry for the delay. Yes, you’re right: ‘allo stadio’ contains the preposition ‘a’ and it is ‘il complemento di moto a luogo’, which can be substituted with the adverbs ‘li’’ and ‘la’’ (there), and of course ‘ci’. However, in my blog I was trying to explain the use of ‘ci’ when it substitutes ‘complementi’ which are introduced by the prepositions ‘a’ or ‘in’ but which are NOT ‘complementi di luogo’, but are instead ‘complemento di termine’, ‘complemento di limitazione’, etc. such as ‘Credi nei fantasmi? No, non ci credo’

    Cordiali saluti!

  8. Andreas:

    Salve Serena!
    Grazie infinite per la risposta. Come mi piacciono le particolarita’ della grammatica italiana!
    Andreas

  9. Lee:

    Serena, so che questo post è vecchio, ma è questa frase sbaglio? (Typo)

    Questo quadro è molto costoso, non ce lo possiamo pemettere.

    PeRmettere?

    • Geoff:

      @Lee Ciao Lee, sì, avevi ragione, ‘pemettere’ era sbagliato. vedrai che ora l’ho coretto.

      Grazie infinite

  10. sam:

    This is so helpful – thank you!

  11. marilena milazzo:

    To check another little facet of “ci,” though I know it tags onto the end of an infinitive -e.g.,: andarci – does it also tag onto the end of an imperative? Or the end of a subjunctive – e.g., sbrighiamoci?

    Have I got this right? Are there any other verb forms that ci tags onto? Also, is the tag on always a must or is it optional?

    Looking forward to your reply…BTW, LOVE the blog.
    Marilena Milazzo

    • Serena:

      @marilena milazzo Salve Marilena,

      In andarci the ‘ci’ refers to ‘there’, hence andarci = ‘to go there’. Sbrigarsi, on the other hand is a reflexive verb, therefore ‘ci’, in the example that you give ‘sbrighiamoci’ refers to ‘us’, i.e. ‘let’s hurry ourselves up’. These are two completely different usages of ‘ci’, and this is often a source of confusion.
      However, in both cases the ‘ci’ tags onto the end of infinitives, gerunds, and imperatives.

      Spero di essere stato chiaro

      Saluti da Geoff 🙂

  12. Lynne:

    From you paragraph quoted below, do I understand that ci can be used only with the first person plural (noi) — or it simply applicable to any form of stare or essere?

    Thanks, Serena. You’re a marvel !

    • Geoff:

      @Lynne Grazie Lynne!

      Ci is a personal pronoun referring to the first person plural only (noi), and is used in a variety of situations:
      1. Direct object: ci hanno visti = they have seen us; Maria ci saluta = Maria greets us; Maria ci sta salutando (present continuous with verb ‘stare’) = Maria is greeting us
      2. Indirect object, equivalent to ‘a noi’ (to us): ci piace la pizza or: a noi piace la pizza = we like pizza (literally: pizza is pleasing to us); mia madre ci ha spedito un pacco or: mia madre ha spedito un pacco a noi = my mother sent a parcel to us
      3. Reflexive pronoun (ourselves) = ci divertiamo molto = we enjoy ourselves a lot; ci stiamo divertendo molto (present continuous) = we are enjoying ourselves a lot; ci siamo divertiti molto (past tense) = we enjoyed ourselves a lot.

      N.B. Present and past continuous in Italian are built with the verb ‘stare’, independently from the pronoun or type of verb you are using.
      All reflexive verbs have the verb ‘essere’ in the ‘present perfect’ tense.

      However, there is another small pronoun spelt exactly the same, ci, which is not a personal pronoun but a pronoun of place, meaning ‘there’ or ‘here’. This ‘ci’ of place is mostly used with the verb ‘essere’ and with verbs of movent: ci sono tre mele = there are three apples
      c’è (short for ‘ci è’) molta neve = there is a lot of snow
      ci sono andata ieri = I went there yesterday
      ci tornerò domani = I will go back there tomorrow.

      Finally, ‘ci’ is used in some idiomatic expressions such as ‘non ci sta’ = it doesn’t fit in there;
      ci sta bene = it goes well with it;
      Some of these idiomatic expressions are listed in my post http://blogs.transparent.com/italian/verbi-idiomatici-in-ci/

      All these variations on the same word can be very confusing, and frustratingly hard to learn. So don’t worry, you’re not alone! It just takes time and constant practice.

      Spero di essere stata chiara.

      Saluti da Serena

  13. Lynne:

    OOOOOPPPPPSSSSSS ——- !!! (Forgot the quote)

    “Probably the first usage of ‘ci’ that students of Italian come across is the pronome personale diretto o indiretto (direct or indirect personal pronoun), which in English translates as ‘us’, e.g. Giorgio ci ha invitato a cena (Giorgio has invited us to dinner); ci piace la pizza (we like pizza, literally ‘pizza pleases us’). We also use ci in the pronome riflessivo (reflexive pronoun) to mean ‘ourselves’, e.g. ci stiamo lavando le mani (we are washing our hands, literally ‘we are washing ourselves the hands). The third way in which we use ci as a personal pronoun is in the pronome reciproco (reciprocal pronoun), where it has the meaning of ‘each other’ as in the famous phrase ‘arrivederci’ (lit. until we see each other).”

  14. isabel chesak:

    Ciao Serena,
    Ringrazio per la tua explicazione di “ci’ que era molto chiara.
    Cordialmente, Isabella

  15. Ethan:

    Thank you so much! I was trying to understand the simple sentence “ci vediamo” and found this, and learned more than expected!

  16. Catalina Dos Santos-Rodrigues:

    This is AMAZINGLY helpful! Keep it up Serena!
    Lina x

  17. Will Temperley:

    Thankyou! This page is my reference for this very tricky little word. I find it so difficult to disambiguate ci in conversation … I get all the other words but can’t figure out who, or what or where this little ci is. I still don’t understand why “ci vuole il legno” means “it requires wood” whereas “ci piace la pizza” means “we like pizza”. The former if I’m correct uses volerci, and the latter uses piacersi, but why not piacerci?

    • Geoff:

      @Will Temperley Salve Will,
      The ci in ‘ci vuole’ has NO relation to the ‘ci in ci piace’ The former is an idiomatic expression in which ‘ci’ literally means ‘there’, whereas the latter ‘ci’ (ci piace) is an indirect personal pronoun meaning ‘to us’. I think you’ll find that our article on ‘piacere’ will help to clear up your confusion on the subject. You can read it here: http://blogs.transparent.com/italian/piacere/

      If you need any further help don’t hesitate to contact us.

      saluti da Geoff

  18. Margaret:

    i love your site. Having studied a couple of languages at university forty years ago but only used them on holiday, I’m extremely lacking in practice. However, I’m now trying to teach myself Italian and your explanations are invaluable, particularly for such important points as ci. Thank you for your efforts.

    • Geoff:

      @Margaret Grazie per il tuo gentile commento Margaret.

      A presto, Geoff

  19. al-iskander:

    i’m sorry but shouldn’t it be «Giorgio ci ha invitati» (not «invitato»)? thank you.

    • Serena:

      @al-iskander Salve! Benvenuto!
      ‘Giorgio ci ha invitati’ or ‘Giorgio ci ha invitato’? Both versions are correct. The agreement is compulsory with the direct object pronouns lo, la, li, le. With the personal pronouns such as ‘ci’ or ‘vi’ the agreement is not compulsory.
      Saluti da Serena

  20. Nadia:

    Really helpful article. Very comprehensive. Thank you!

  21. Nadia:

    How do I receive your blog via email or FB?

  22. Bahia Philpot:

    22/11/16!
    1. We will go tomorrow afternoon after we have rested, we will then see if the cupboard will fit. If not, not sure what we could do.
    2. When the water boils we put in the spaghetti, and then add salt. It will take 10 minutes for the spaghetti to cook. When it is cooked, we add the oil and grind fresh pepper to your taste.

  23. Janebowden:

    Nell’espressione, ‘non ci piove ‘, che significa il ‘ci’

    • Serena:

      @Janebowden Salve Jane!
      L’espressione idiomatica completa è: “su questo non ci piove”. Perciò ‘ci’ è una ripetizione di ‘su questo’. E’ un’espressione, di cui non si sa l’origine, che indica che un fatto, o una tesi, è assolutamente chiaro, nessuno lo può contestare. Si può tradurre con: “no doubt about it”.
      Saluti da Serena


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