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Qualche, alcuni o dei? Posted by on Aug 4, 2010 in Grammar

When talking about unspecified quantities we can use several forms. The most common indefinite adjective is qualche, which means ‘some’, ‘any’, or ‘a few’. The problem with qualche is that it is invariable, and always singular, but expresses the idea of plurality. Let’s look at the way we use it:

ALBERO

Ho comprato qualche pianta al mercato
I bought some plants on the market

Qualche albero è caduto a causa del forte vento
Some trees have fallen because of the strong wind

Qualche giorno fa siamo andati al mare
A few days ago we went to the sea

Conosci qualche buon ristorante qui vicino?
Do you know any good restaurants near here?

As you can see from the examples above, qualche is always followed by a singular noun, and, where appropriate, a singular verb.

Another common way to express an unspecified quantity is the indefinite adjective alcuni / alcune, which is only used in the plural form, and has both the masculine (alcuni) and the feminine (alcune) forms. Here are some examples of how to use them:

Ho comprato alcune piante al mercato
I bought some plants on the market

Alcuni alberi sono caduti a causa del forte vento
Some trees have fallen because of the strong wind

Alcuni giorni fa siamo andati al mare
A few days ago we went to the sea

Alcune persone preferiscono il mare alla montagna
Some people prefer the sea to the mountain

Serena - golfo della spezia

In this case alcuni / alcune are followed by a plural noun, and, where appropriate, a plural verb.

N.B. alcun / alcuno / alcuna (which are the singular forms of alcuni / alcune) are only used in negative sentences, e.g. Non conosco alcun buon ristorante qui vicino (I don’t know any good restaurants near here), or non ho comprato alcuna pianta al mercato (I didn’t buy any plants on the market). It should be noted however, that in colloquial Italian nessun / nessuno / nessuna (lit. nobody or nothing) is used far more commonly, e.g. Non conosco nessun buon ristorante qui vicino (I don’t know any good restaurants near here).

Finally, to express an indefinite quantity we commonly use the partitive adjective which is formed by combining the preposition di with the definite articles il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, le, hence: del, dello, della, dell’, dei, degli, delle. Let’s look at some examples:

Ho comprato delle piante al mercato
I bought some plants on the market

Degli alberi sono caduti a causa del forte vento
Some trees have fallen because of the strong wind

Conosci dei buoni ristoranti qui vicino?
Do you know any good restaurants near here?

Note that the singular form del, dello, della, dell’ is either used with uncountable nouns (i.e. nouns that are not normally pluralized) such as zucchero (sugar), acqua (water), caffè (coffee), etc, or with the meaning of un po’ di (a bit of):

Vuoi del caffè?
Would you like some coffee?

Posso avere dello zucchero?
May I have some sugar

Devo comprare del formaggio
I must buy a bit of cheese

N.B. When asking questions we either use qualche or del, dei, etc., and not alcuni / e, e.g.: Conosci qualche buon ristorante? or Conosci dei buoni ristoranti? (Do you know any good restaurants?)

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Comments:

  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    If I wanted to say: “Some of the trees have fallen because of the strong wind”, referring to a specific group of trees, would the Italian read the same way? Or would I say: “Degli gli alberi sono caduti a causa del forte vento?”

    Vince

    • serena:

      @Vince Mooney Salve Vince:
      ‘Qualche’ and ‘dei, degli, ecc.’ are only used as adjectives, whilst ‘alcuni, alcune’ are also used as pronouns. In your example “Some of the trees have fallen because of the strong wind”, ‘some’ is a pronoun, therefore the correct form would be: “Alcuni degli alberi sono caduti a causa del forte vento”.
      Spero di essere stata chiara.
      Saluti da Serena

  2. Jeff:

    Are qualche and del completely a matter of preference? It seems they are 100% interchangeable.

    Also, would it be wrong to use the phrase “Hai alcuni euro?” when asking someone for a small amount of money? I’m interpreting that from English where “a few” can mean roughly three, or at least a more specific range than using the word “some”. Is there a direct translation when you’re trying to talk about a small amount (a few) vs an unknown quantity (some)?

    • serena:

      @Jeff Salve Jeff,
      ‘Qualche’ and ‘del’ are not 100% interchangeable. As I said in my article, with uncountable nouns such as ‘zucchero’ (sugar), ‘acqua’ (water), etc. we can only use ‘del’. Moreover, ‘del’ is a partitive adjective, therefore it’s used to mean “un po’ di” (a bit of): “devo comprare un po’ di pane” or “devo comprare del pane”. In these two cases, i.e. uncountable nouns and partitive (a bit of), “qualche” is not used.

      In your example: “Hai alcuni euro?” it would be better to use either “qualche” or “degli”, i.e. “Hai qualche euro?”, or “Hai degli euro?”. This is because you are asking a question, and “alcuni” is not commonly used in questions. As I said in my article, “qualche” is singular but has a plural meaning. However, it implies a ‘small plurality’ (if there is such expression!), that is, it indicates an unspecified quantity of 2-3-4… In fact, it can be translated as ‘a few’, e.g.: “qualche giorno fa” (a few days ago).
      Spero di essere stata chiara.
      Saluti da Serena

  3. A Miksak:

    grazie tanto… molte utile!

  4. Jeannet:

    Salve Serena,

    Grazie mille for the explanation.

    …..some trees of which one has been burned by the lighting struck.
    …..alcuni arbo dello quale uno è bruciato…
    (one of one has been burned) ?

    Jeannet

    • serena:

      @Jeannet Salve Jeannet,
      ‘Alcuni’ is plural, so the noun that follows it (albero), and the relative pronoun (quale) must all be plural. “…..some trees of which one has been burned by the lighting struck” would be: “…alcuni alberi uno dei quali è stato bruciato dal fulmine”.
      Spero di essere stata chiara.
      P.S. Note the Italian spelling for ‘tree’: “albero, alberi”.
      Saluti da Serena

  5. Kate:

    I love, love, love it when you give these types of linguistic tutorials in your blog. They are incredibly helpful.
    Kate

  6. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Thanks for your comment. I would have never thought that ‘some’ in the phrase ‘some trees’ and ‘some’ in the phrase ‘some of the trees’ were in anyway different. The same word ‘some’ is used in both cases in English. I find the difference in Italian to be very interesting.

    It seems that if you know two languages well, you know a lot more than just two languages.

    Vince

  7. andreas:

    Salve Serena!
    Mille grazie per il blog. Contiene delle informazioni stilistiche preziosissime.
    Andreas

  8. Jeannet:

    Salve Serena,

    Profoundly busy with grammar italiano I need some help in order to prevent myself keeping in mind the wrong statements(being Dutch)-I want to be sure about.

    In the ‘condizionale’ how to translate in italiano:
    ..I should be…
    ..I should have been…
    ..I should have had…
    ..I could have to…
    ..I could have had…
    ..I could be able to…
    ..I would like..
    ..I would have wanted..
    ..I would have to…
    ..I would have had…
    ..I would have been…

    Mi scusi if I asked too much.
    Many thanks,

    Jeannet

    • serena:

      @Jeannet Ciao Jeannet, I’ll publish a blog in a couple of days answering your questions, va bene?

      Saluti da Serena

  9. Cinzia:

    Ciao Serena, non so se torni qui. Vedo che l’ultimo “entry” era di un mese fa…
    I have a question about translating into Italian a question in English using “any”. For example:

    Do you have any bananas? = Avete banane?
    Can we just skip the “any”? Is it more commonly done this way?

    And how about when using the negative:
    We don’t have any bananas today. = Non abbiamo banane oggi.

    Thank you so much for taking your time to do this blog. It is so very useful! Cinzia 🙂

    • serena:

      @Cinzia Ciao Cinzia, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter how old the blog is, I always check new comments.

      The literal translation of ‘Do you have any bananas? is ‘ Avete delle banane?’. However, in everyday language, if you go to a shop and you want to find out whether an item is available, for example bananas, it’s normal to simply ask: ‘Avete banane?’. In this case the replay would be: ‘Non abbiamo banane oggi’. If you want to be more emphatic than you would use ‘Non abbiamo nessuna banana oggi’.

      Saluti da Serena

  10. Jens:

    Ciao! “None of the trees were burned by lightning, but the wind took four of them.”

    Here I understand I should use “Nessuno” and it works well in the beginnig: “Nessuno albero è stato bruciato…” but then should “of them” that refers to “Nessuno albero” be in plural or in singular?

    It´s 4 trees, it feels so obvious to speak about the trees in plural and not in singular.

    Arrivedrci! 🙂

    • Serena:

      @Jens Salve Jens, here is what you need to say in the situation that you describe: “None of the trees were burned by lightning, but the wind took four of them.”
      “Nessun albero è stato bruciato dal fulmine, ma il vento ne ha abbattuti quattro.”
      ‘Ne’ (of it / them) doesn’t change but the past participle ‘abbattuti’ has to agree in number and gender with the object, i.e. ‘quattro alberi’ (four trees). So yes, the second part of the sentence is plural.

      Saluti da Serena

  11. Jens:

    Thank you so much Serena! You are great.

    🙂

  12. Jay:

    Hey Serena,
    You said in colloquial Italian it is common to use nessun/nessuno/nessuna. Does that mean you wouldn’t use it when speaking formally?

    Thnks

    • Serena:

      @Jay Salve Jay! Nessun/nessuno and nessuna are the most common indefinite negative adjectives/pronouns, and it’s now perfectly acceptable to use them in negative sentences together with non, in both colloquial and formal Italian.
      Saluti da Serena

  13. bonnie:

    Oh my gosh, I have studied Italian for over 12 years and have never had/read/heard the explanation for “some” so clearly and thoroughly!!!! Grazie!! Grazie!!! I went back through all of my “many” books and no, none of them explained this as well as you did. I will now remember how to correctly use qualche!!! LOVE how you did the same sentence with the different uses!!!!!!

    • Geoff:

      @bonnie Salve Bonnie e grazie per il tuo gentilissimo commento. Siamo contenti che hai trovato il blog cosi’ utile.

      A presto, Geoff e Serena

  14. Paul604:

    Ciao Serena. This is such a fantastically clear explanation! Could I ask, can qualche also be used in negative expressions though?

    So for example, could I say “Non ho qualche libro” (I don’t have any books), or would I only be able to use “nessun” or “alcun” in this context?

    • Serena:

      @Paul604 Salve Paul, grazie per i complimenti!
      No, ‘qualche’ cannot be used in negative sentences. To say ‘I don’t have any books’ you will need to say ‘non ho nessun/alcun libro’.
      Saluti da Serena

      • Paul604:

        @Serena Grazie, Serena! That was extremely helpful 🙂


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