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Tricky little words: Ne Posted by on Aug 23, 2009 in Grammar

In my previous ‘Tricky Little Words’ article I dealt with the dreaded ‘ci’. Now it’s time to get to grips with that other ubiquitous two letter word that can be such a nightmare for learners of Italian: ne!

Firstly though I want to clarify the distinction between the congiunzione ‘né … né’ (note the accent on ) which means ‘neither … nor’, and the particella pronominale ‘ne’ without an accent. It is the latter of these two which we’re going to look at in this article.

Using ne when talking about a quantity

The first ne that a student of Italian usually encounters is the so called particella partitiva which is used when talking about the quantity of something which has already been mentioned in the conversation, and which means “of it” or “of them”. For example:

Mario: Quanti caffè bevi al giorno? Elisa: Di solito ne bevo tre (Mario: How many coffees do you drink a day? Elisa: I usually drink three of them), or Turista: Scusi, c’è un bar qui vicino? Passante: Sì, ce n’è uno all’angolo della piazza (Tourist: Excuse me, is there a bar near here? Passer-by: Yes, there is one of them on the corner of the square)

Alternatively you can use an indefinite adjective/adverb without specifying the quantity. For example:

Ho moltissimi pomodori. Ne vuoi qualcuno? (I’ve got lots of tomatoes, would you like some of them?), or Giovanna: Abbiamo il pane? Mario: Sì, ma ce n’è poco (Giovanna: Have we got any bread? Mario: Yes, but there isn’t much of it).

N.B. In English the particella partitiva ‘of it’ / ‘of them’ is often not stated, e.g. ‘I’ve got lots of tomatoes, would you like some?’ in Italian however the ne should always be included.

Ne as a substitute for a noun or pronoun

Ne becomes a bit more complicated when it substitutes a noun or a pronoun which is preceded by the preposition di (of / about), or di combined with the definite article, i.e. del, dello, della, dell’, dei, degli, delle, (of the / about the). For example:

Maria è partita, ne sento molto la mancanza (Maria has gone, I really miss her). In this example the ne substitutes di lei (of her) because in Italian we say ‘sentire la mancanza di qualcuno / qualcosa’ (to feel the lack of someone / something).

Similarly, Mario: Ciao Giovanni, devo parlarti di una cosa importante. Giovanni: Va bene, ne parliamo dopo la riunione (Mario: Hi Giovanni! I need to talk to you about something important. Giovanni: Okay! We’ll talk about it after the meeting).

Ne can also substitute a noun or a pronoun preceded by the preposition da (from), or da combined with the definite article, i.e. dal, dallo, dalla, dall’, dai, dagli, dalle, (from the). For example:

Luca è andato al bar e ne è uscito dopo mezz’ora (Luca went to the bar and left after half an hour). In this example the ‘ne’ substitutes ‘dal bar’ (from the bar).

Here’s another example: Quest’anno abbiamo raccolto tante olive e ne abbiamo estratto un buonissimo olio (This year we picked loads of olives, and we extracted a really good oil from them). In this example the ne substitutes ‘dalle olive’ (from the olives).

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Nets spread beneath the olive trees ready for the harvest. Photo by Geoff.

As with ‘ci’ there are also some idiomatic verbs which have ‘ne’ built into them. Here are some examples using the most common ones:

valerne la pena (to be worth it), e.g. ci è voluto molto tempo, ma n’è valsa la pena (it took a long time, but it was worth it)

non poterne più (to reach one’s limit), e.g. che caldo, non ne posso più (it’s so hot, I can’t stand it any longer);

farne a meno (to do without something), e.g. al mattino ho bisogno di caffeina, non ne posso fare a meno (in the morning I need caffeine, I can’t do without it);

combinarne di tutti i colori (to get up to all sorts of mischief), e.g. è un bambino molto vivace che ne combina di tutti i colori (he is a lively child who gets up to all sorts of mischief).

Finally, there are several verbs which describe movement or state which incorporate ‘ne’ in their reflexive form. This makes the verb more emphatic than its simpler form. Here are a couple of examples: starsene (to stay here/there) from stare (to stay), andarsene (to go away from here) from andare (to go), e.g. Luca se n’è stato tutto il giorno a letto (Luca stayed there in bed all day), or adesso me ne vado (I’m going away from here now).

In my next blog I’ll give you a list of verbs that are normally followed by the preposition di, and which can, therefore, be substituted by ‘ne’.

Alla prossima volta!

This blog was revised on 10/09/2014

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Comments:

  1. Robert:

    Comment about “Ancora una nuova legge da dimenticare”

    My first visit to Italy was an eye opener in regards to driving. My German wife and in-laws warn me before entering Italy about Italian drivers. Sure enough, a few miles from our hotel in Lake Garda we witnessed the end result of a deadly motorcycle accident. A couple of days later we took a public bus from Garda to Verona. On the way there the driver hit another bus coming on the opposite direction. We switched busses and the second bus driver rear-ended a car. Needless to say our short drive to Verona turned into a three-hour adventure! But, we were not thru yet! On our last day in Lake Garda we decided to drive around that wonderful lake. I forgot the name of the town, but we were stopped by a traffic jam and as we crawled along, we saw a tourist bus backing out of a parking lot and smash a parked car! Unbelievable! I told my wife I rather drive in England for a month than two minutes in Italy!

  2. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I’ve tried but I just cannot see the word ‘ne’ and not turn the meaning into a negative. Non è facile.

    Vince

  3. Serena:

    Ciao Vince,

    You wrote: ‘I’ve tried but I just cannot see the word ‘ne’ and not turn the meaning into a negative. Non è facile.’

    D’accordo, non è mica facile! However, I think you might be confusing ‘nè’ (with an accent), with ‘ne’ (without an accent). If you reread my blog you will see the difference. Just forget ‘nè’ (with the accent) for now because the other ‘ne’ is far more important. In fact it’s not just a ‘tricky little word’ but an ‘indispensible little word’, and it’s not possible to speak well in Italian without learning how to use it. Here’s an example: when I go to the fruttivendolo (grocery store) and I say to il negoziante (the store keeper) ‘vorrei degli zucchini per favore’ (I’d like some zucchini please), he will reply ‘quanti te ne do?’ (‘how many of them shall I give you?’). It just doesn’t make sense to say ‘quanti zucchini ti do?’ (‘how many zucchini shall I give you?’) because the subject of the conversation, zucchini, has already been stated and doesn’t need to be repeated. It’s just the same as in English, it would be ridiculous to keep repeating the subject of the conversation, however in Italian you must include the ne (of it / of them) in this construction.

    Re. the byki lists, I’ll check it out with the boss.

    Serena

  4. Malcolm:

    Salve

    It may be that Vince is/has been a student of French in which “ne” is used in virtually all negative constructions.

    If this is the case it may help him to think of “ne” in Italian being used in some of the same ways as the French “en” although Italian has more variety of positioning the word.

    With regard to “né … né … ” (neither … nor …), if neither item is plural is the following verb plural or singular?

  5. Serena:

    Salve Malcolm!

    What you say about “ne” and its French equivalent is very interesting . I have never studied French in depth, but I believe you are right.

    With regard to ‘né … né …’, the following verb is always plural, e.g. ‘né io né Giovanna siamo andate al cinema’ (neither I nor Giovanna went to the cinema).

    Cordiali saluti da Serena

  6. laura:

    Grazie mille Serena!!! questa spiegazione mi ha aiutato molto. Laura.

  7. Helene:

    the Italian ‘ne’ reminds me of the French “en”.
    Question. Combien de pommes avez-vous mangé.
    Answer: J’en ai mangé trois.

    How many apples have you eaten?
    I have eaten three.

  8. laura etheridge:

    Ciao Serena,
    I can’t find the post that addresses the usage of “ci”, could you please send me the link???
    Grazie mille!!!!

  9. A.J.:

    Grazie mille Serena!

    I’m a graduate student of music and I have had to dive right into the literature with very little training (none of it in the classroom)! I studied German but the Italian literature (regarding Palestrina, for example) is difficult. This is very helpful, thanks again!

  10. naomi:

    Ciao! Questo è molto utile ma ho anche la stessa domanda di Lauren; dove posso trovare la lezione su ‘ci’? Grazie mille! 🙂

  11. Rachel:

    Hi Serena
    I was wondering if ‘ne’ could be used with the si impersonale? Eg. Life is so much easier if one can laugh about it? Would it be ‘ Se ne puo ridere’? I am a bit confused.
    Thanks in advance for your reply. Also, love your posts. I always learn a lot! Keep up the fantastic work!

    • Serena:

      @Rachel Ciao Rachel, scusa per il ritardo nel risponderti.

      Yes, “ne” can be used with the “si impersonale”, which then changes to “se”, and your example is absolutely correct. Here is a very common expression that you might hear: “Basta, non se ne puo’ piu’!” (Lit. Stop, one had enough of it!).
      Molto brava!

      Serena

  12. Marco:

    Brilliant! By far the best explaination i’Ve found. Grazie e auguri.

  13. Alexander:

    Cara Serena,
    I read your example, ” Giovanna: Abbiamo il pane? Mario: Sì, ma ce n’è poco (Giovanna: Have we got any bread? Mario: Yes, but there isn’t much of it).” , over and over again, and can’t understand why “ma ce n’è poco” isn’t “ma c’è ne poco”. Do I have a glitch in my brain, have I missed something in my learning or are they both correct? Please ease my mind.
    Thanks,
    Alex

    • Serena:

      @Alexander Salve Alex,
      it’s just a problem of word order: “ce n’è poco”, or “ce ne sono pochi” in the plural, is the correct word order. While “c’è ne poco”, or “ci sono ne pochi” is incorrect.
      In Italian the verb goes after the pronouns, or better ‘particelle pronominali’ as in the case above.
      It’s the same construction as in “glielo ho dato ieri” (I gave it to him yesterday), or “Hai una penna? me la presti?” (Do you have a pen? can you lend it yo me?), where we have double personal pronouns (glielo = to him plus it; me la = to me plus it)
      Spero di essere stata chiara.
      Auguri di buon anno
      Serena

  14. Gill:

    Ciao Serena, questo è molto utile. Provo di usare più “ci” e “ne”. Potresti spiegare la differenza tra “pensare a” e “pensare di”?

    Grazie, Gill

    • Serena:

      @Gill Salve Gill!
      ‘Pensare a qualcosa’ = to think about/of something (a plus noun)
      ‘pensare di fare qualcosa’ = to think of doing something (di plus action)
      Saluti da Serena


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