The Particles Ci and Ne

The misery of ci and ne: two small words to mess with your world

No sooner are you on your way to learning Italian when you meet these two trolls guarding the bridge to your success. These two pests can take up shop next to the subjunctive, and the rules for the the use of the imperfect as one of the most frustrating aspects of learning Italian. However, as with any difficult subject, with a significant amount of commitment and attention you can master it.


First off ... What's a particle?

You may not have heard of particles because they don't really fall into any of the traditional categories of parts of speech. Basically, particles are small words that have little to no meaning on their own and don't change in form. An example of a particle in English is the to paired with an infinitive, as in to fall. The particle doesn't have any function other than its attachment to the verb in the infinitive.

A 30 second summary of ci and ne

ci from latin hic there and ne from inde from there

If I were forced to summarize the uses of ci and ne in 30 seconds, I would say the following:

ci and ne replace prepositional phrases...

1. If you are replacing a phrase introduced by a, you can use ci:

Sei mai andato a Firenze? Non ci sono mai andato.

2. If you are replacing a phrase introduced by di, you use ne:

Hai bisogno di una macchina ? Non ne ho bisogno.

In truth, this would be correct 90% of the time (not an actual statistic). So if you walked away at this moment, you would be correct most of the time. What is presented in the remainder of this page is a far more nuanced explanation of the rules that govern ci and ne.

The uses of ci

One reason that ci can be troublesome is it can be confused with a few other unrelated categories of words. You may be familiar with the ci meaning us or to us from the direct and indirect object pronouns respectively. There is also the ci used in the first person plural (noi form) when conjugating reflexive verbs (e.g. ci trasferiamo) and reciprocal verbs (e.g. ci telefoniamo). One has to use context and logic to tell all of these instances of ci apart from each other.

Aside from these pronominal uses of ci, the particle ci has a very different meaning. Watch the following video to learn the uses of this word. At the end of the video there are exercises to reinforce what you've learned. Further down the page there are notes on the use of ci.

Here is the video lesson on the uses of ci:

Notes on the use of the particle ci:

  1. When referring to motion towards a location or location in which. It often replaces a place previously mentioned in a prepositional phrase with a or in; for example:
    • Sono andato a Firenze l'anno scorso e vorrei ritornarci.
      • I went to Florence last year and I would like to return there.
    • Domani torno in città. Ci vieni anche tu?
      • I'm returning to the city tomorrow. Are you coming (there) too?
    • A che ora vai da tua nonna? Di solito ci vado alle 8.00.*
      • When do you go to your grandmother's house? Usually I go there at 8.00.*

    *An expression with da can also be substituted when the sense is that of a location or motion towards.

    **ci is often used with the following verbs: andare, venire, stare, rimanere, restare, as these verbs are often linked to a prepositional phrase dealing with locations.

  2. Ci can replace a prepositional phrase introduced with a, in or su*
    • Posso contare sul tuo aiuto? Certo, puoi contarci.
      • Can I count on your help? Of course, you can count on it.
    • Sei riuscito a fare gli esercizi? No, non ci sono riuscito.
      • Did you manage to do the exercises? No, I didn't (manage to do them)

    *This often occurs with the following verbs: pensare (a), credere (in/a), riuscire (a), contare (su)

  3. Certain idiomatic verbs employ ci without referring to a location or replacing a phrase.

The following verbs all use ci as an integral part of their construction:

Idiomatic verbs that use 'ci'

avercela*to be angry withCe l'ha con mehe/she is angry with me
capircito understand somethingNon ci capisco nienteI don't understand anything
cascarcito fall for itCi sei cascatoyou fell for it
entrarcito have something to do withCosa c'entra?What's that got to do with anything?
essercibe (there)Ci sono due studentiThere are two students
farcela*to manage, succeedNon ce la faccio piùI can't take it anymore
mettercito take (time)Ci mette due ore per prepararsihe/she takes two hours to get ready
mettercela tutta*to do one's bestCe l'ho messa tuttaI did my best
prenderci gustoto develop a tasteDa bambino non mi piaceva il senape, ma adesso ci prendo gusto a mangiarlo.As a child I didn't like mustard, but now I'm starting to like it.
saperci fareto be good at somethingCi so fareI'm good at it
sentircito hear wellNon ci sento da quell'orecchioI don't hear well out of that ear
starcito agree withio ci stoI agree
tenercito mean a lotCi tengo molto a vedere quel filmIt means a lot to me to see that movie
vedercito seeCi vedo beneI see well
volercito require/needCi vuole un alberoyou need a tree

*As with double object pronouns when 'ci' is combined with another pronoun (here 'la') the ci changes to 'ce'

The uses of ne

The particle ne is similar to ci in that it also replaces a prepositional phrase. Watch the following video to learn the uses of this word. At the end of the video there are exercises to reinforce what you've learned. Further down the page there are notes on the use of ne.

Here is a video how to use ne:

*There are exercises at the end of the video to reinforce what you have learned.

Notes on the use of ne:

  1. Ne commonly replaces a partitive (a term referring to a part of a whole: i.e. a slice of bread.)
    • Vuoi ancora del vino? Sì, ne vorrei ancora.
      • Do you want some more wine? Yes, I would like some more of it.
    • Quanti fratelli hai? Ne ho due.
      • How many brothers do you have? I have two (of them).
    • Quanti ne abbiamo oggi? Oggi ne abbiamo 23. (Idiomatic expression)
      • What is the date today? (lit. How many of them (days) do we have?) Today's the 23rd.
  2. Ne replaces a prepositional phrase introduced by di.
    • Hai dimenticato di fare i compiti? Sì ne ho dimenticato.
      • Did you forget to do the homework? I forgot about it.
    • Non sa niente delle vite degli altri. Non ne sa niente.
      • He knows nothing of other peoples' lives. He knows nothing of that.
  3. Ne can replace a prepositional phrase introduced by da and involving motion away from a location.
    • Sono tornato dal centro commerciale. Non ne sono tornato contento, perché c'era troppa gente.
      • I returned from the mall. I didn't return (from there) happy, because there were too many people.

The following verbs all use ne as an integral part of their construction:

Idiomatic verbs & expressions that use 'ne'

andarseneto leaveMe ne vadoI'm leaving
averne fin sopra i capellito have it up to here (fig.) Ne ho fin sopra i capelli!I've had it up to here!
fregarsene*to not give a damnNon me ne frega nienteI don't give a damn
importarseneto not careNon me ne importaI don't care about that
infischiarsene*to not give a damnFrancamente me ne infischioFrankly, I don't give a damn
non poterne piùto not be able to manageNon ne posso piùI can't do it anymore
starseneto hang aroundStasera me ne sto a casaTonight I'm hanging out at home
valerne la penato be worth itNe vale la penaIt's worth it

*colloquial; not for formal situations

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