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Qualcuno, Qualcosa, Alcuni, Nessuno Posted by on Aug 28, 2010 in Grammar

Recently I wrote an article about the indefinite adjectives qualche, alcuni, and dei, meaning ‘some’ or ‘any’: Today we are going to look at the indefinite pronouns.


Qualcuno means ‘someone’ or ‘somebody’, e.g.:

Ieri ho incontrato qualcuno che ti conosce
Yesterday I met somebody who knows you
C’è qualcuno al telefono che vuole parlare con te
There is someone on the phone who wants to speak to you


Qualcosa means ‘something’ or ‘anything’, and it can also also be written as two separate words: qualche cosa. Despite being constructed around the feminine singular word cosa (thing), qualcosa is  masculine singular(otherwise life would be too simple), e.g.:

È successo qualcosa
Something has happened
Qualcosa è stato fatto
Something has been done
Hai sentito qualcosa da Federica?
Have you heard anything from Federica?


To express an unknown quantity in the plural we use the indefinite pronouns alcuni (masculine plural) and alcune (feminine plural), both meaning ‘some’, e.g.:

Alcuni pensano che la festa sia stata un successo
Some people think that the party was a success
Alcune delle mele che hai comprato ieri sono ammaccate
Some of the apples you bought yesterday are bruised


Nessuno (masculine) and nessuna (feminine) mean ‘no one’, ‘nobody’, ‘none’, or ‘anybody’, and are only used in the singular form, normally in negative sentences. e.g.:

Nessuno ha saputo rispondere alla domanda
Nobody was able to answer the question
Nessuna delle ragazze è mai stata in Inghilterra
None of the girls have ever been to England

When nessuno comes after the verb, we also use the negation non, e.g.:

Non ho visto nessuno
I haven’t seen anybody
Non c’è nessuno in casa
There is nobody at home

When asking a question we tend to use nessuno instead of qualcuno, e.g.:

C’è nessuno?
Is anybody in?
Hai visto nessuno?
Have you seen anybody?

Nessuna domanda? (Any Questions?)

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  1. Bill Rohwer:

    Per favore, Serena, mi faccia capire perchè si usa ‘alcuni’ come un pronome di ‘persone’ (people) invece ‘alcune.’


    • serena:

      @Bill Rohwer Salve Bill, bella domanda! Rispondo in Inglese perchè può darsi che sia utile ad altri lettori.
      The reason that we use ‘alcuni’ in this situation is because in Italian the word ‘people’ is implied but not expressed. In such neutral situations we use the masculine plural, e.g. ‘i ricchi hanno più opportunità dei poveri’, (the rich have more opportunities than the poor), meaning ‘la gente ricca ha più opportunità della gente povera’ (rich folk have more opportunities than poor folk).
      In my English translation of ‘Alcuni pensano che la festa sia stata un successo’ you could omit the word ‘people’ and just say ‘Some think that the party was a success’.
      If I had written ‘Alcune persone pensano che la festa sia stata un successo’ ‘alcune’ would have been an adjective and not a pronoun, and therefore must agree in gender and number with ‘persone’.
      However, it is more common simply to use ‘alcuni’ to mean ‘some people’, e.g. ‘alcuni dicono che domani pioverà’ (some people say it’s going to rain tomorrow’).

      Hope this make sense.
      A presto, Serena

  2. Stephen Greatorex:

    These blogs on the use of Italian are excellent. Thanks very much for them. For a not very advanced student I find them very useful.
    However I have a question about

    Nessuno ha saputo rispondere alla domanda
    Nobody was able to answer the question

    I would have translated it into English as ‘Nobody knew how to answer the question’. No big deal there – it means more or less the same. But that set me thinking about how I would see the word ”able” and immediately think to use ‘potere’. Would it be wrong to say

    Nessuno ha potuto rispondere alla domanda ?

    or perhaps

    Nessuno ha riuscito rispondere alla domanda ?

    or even

    Nessuno ce l’ha fato a rispondere alla domanda
    ( I fear this might be the wrong way to use ‘farcela’, I’m not all that certain about how to use it properly).

    Many thanks,


    • serena:

      @Stephen Greatorex Salve Stephen, e benvenuto nel mio blog.

      This is a very interesting question that merits a blog of its own. However, in brief: we frequently use ‘sapere fare qualcosa’ to mean ‘to know how to do something’, for example ‘sai nuotare?’ do you know how to swim?’, or ‘can you swim?’ Therefore it isn’t necessary in Italian to explicitly say ‘to be able’ in this situation.
      If you do want to say ‘to be able’ the best choice would be ‘nessuno è stato capace di rispondere all domanda’.
      If you use ‘nessuno è riuscito a rispondere…..’ or ‘nessuno ce l’ha fatta a rispondere…’ you could either mean (a.) ‘no one knew…’, or (b.) ‘no one had the chance… (due to lack of time etc.)’
      If you use, on the other hand, ‘nessuno ha potuto rispondere…’ you would be saying ‘no one had the possibility to reply to the question’ (due to lack of time, or some other circumstance).

      Spero di essere stata chiara.

      Saluti da Serena

  3. Stephen Greatorex:

    Thanks for your speedy response, Serena.
    I guess it’s one of those things I’ll just have to try and learn. It’s these little idiosyncrasies of a foreign language that are so interesting and yet are so difficult to learn.
    I see also that I made (at least) three mistakes in my post. I should have known that riuscire takes essere in the passato prossimo. Also I might have written fatto instead of fato, but even that would have been wrong. Please can you say why it should be fatta? And I omitted the ‘a’ before the infinitive.

    Oh well, ‘Chi non ha mai fatto un errore ha mai fatto niente’. (Is that correct Italian?)

    Many thanks,

  4. Lillian Spurway:

    Hello Serena et al
    i think i may have accidently stumbled into a very useful resource here. I am trying to learn Italian on my own as i don’t do well in a group and this in itself has very obvious dissadvantages – pronounciation techniques and correctiing mistakes to name but two.
    I’ve also chosen to learn the language properly with all that entails rather than concentrate on touristy things like ordering un gelato e due cappucini – not that this wouldn’t be useful.
    The thing is, i want this journey to be a labour of love, and 5 months into it i find myself struggling. I am trying to utilize several course books including the Transparent Language verb book which includes a CD of flash cards and audio clips. I have also discovered more free clips on their website that have helped but i didn’t expect to come across your blog. I hope
    that you continue so that i can use yours and others comments to aid my own understanding of the language.

    Many thanks – Lillian

    • serena:

      @Lillian Spurway Salve Lillian, e benvenuta nel mio blog. I sympathize with your problem of trying to learn Italian in a class, groups don’t suit everyone, especially those who wants to delve a bit deeper than the usual stuff that students learn in classes. That’s one of the reasons why I write my blogs in the way that I do.
      For example, in a few days there will be another ‘Colloquial Italian’ blog, in which I look at common words and expressions that are rarely taught in classes. These are the kinds of things that really confuse students when they have the shock of arriving in Italy thinking that they can speak Italian, and they hear something that they’ve never come across in their classes!
      Certainly it is hard to learn on your own, as my (English) husband would tell you. He always had the same problem with classes because he is naturally an autodidatta (self teacher). His advice would be to immerse yourself in the language as if it were a type of music, take every opportunity to speak with native Italian speakers, listen to films in Italian, Italian pop music, e cosi via… It doesn’t matter if you only understand bits of it at the beginning, accustom your ear and your mind to the flows and rhythms of the language, and try and underpin it with a pretty sound understanding of the grammatical structure. Above all, try and visit Italia as often as possible!

      If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask, va bene?

      A presto, Serena

  5. Stephen Greatorex:

    Thanks again, Serena. Tutto chiaro.


  6. Giovanni Mattucci:

    In this sentence:
    Nessuna delle ragazze è mai stata in Inghilterra
    None of the girls have ever been to England

    How come is it “…è mai stata”, and not “…sono mai state”?

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