Like an elusive butterfly, she flutters from sentence to sentence. Just when we think we can grasp her, with a swift beat of tiny wings, ‘ci‘ flies out of reach, only to alight somewhere else totally unexpected.
Luckily, I have a special grammatical butterfly net. Let’s capture her and take a closer look at her many facets …
1. ci as a personal pronoun.
The personal pronoun ci can be translated as ‘us’, ‘each other’, or ‘we’, depending on context.
ci ha chiesto di spostare la macchina = he asked us to move the car
ci siamo visti l’altro giorno = we saw each other the other day
ci vediamo domani = we’ll see each other tomorrow (see you tomorrow)
ci piace fare le passeggiate = we like to go walking
ci siamo già lavati le mani = we have already washed our hands (from the reflexive verb lavarsi = to wash oneself)
2. ci as the adverb ‘there’ or ‘here’
ci sono stato tre anni fa = I went there three years ago
ci siamo, finalmente! = we’re finally here!
ci vengo molto spesso = I come here very often
c’erano molti turisti quest’anno! = there were lots of tourists this year (see note b. below)
c’è un bar qui vicino? = is there a bar nearby? (see note b. below)
a. Sometimes we use the adverb ‘ci‘ even when it is theoretically redundant, e.g. ci sei a casa oggi pomeriggio? = are you (there) at home this afternoon?
b. When ci is followed by è (is), ero (I was), eravamo (we were), erano (they were), and so on it becomes c’. Hence: c’è (is there), c’eravamo (we were there), c’erano (there were), etc.
c. When followed by the object pronouns lo, la, li, le, (it, them) or ne (of it/of them), ci becomes ce:
question: scusi, c’è una banca qui vicino? = excuse me, is there a bank near here?
answer: sì, ce n’è una all’angolo della piazza = yes, there’s one on the corner of the square (literally: there’s one of them on the corner)
question: sapete che il ponte è chiuso? =do you (plural) know that the bridge is closed?
answer: sì, ce l’hanno detto = yes, they told us (literally: they told us it)
question: allora, vi piace l’appartamento? = so, do you like the apartment?
answer: è troppo costoso, non ce lo possiamo permettere = it’s too expensive, we can’t afford it. (literally: we can’t allow ourselves it)
Next time: things get more complicated when we encounter ci in idiomatic verbs!
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