Tricky little words: Ne Posted by Serena 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 né) 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).
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