I am sure you’ve heard of the pronoun NE in Italian many times but do you know how to use it? And what’s the difference between NE and normal direct object pronouns? We’ll go over all of this in today's lesson!
Ne is a pronoun and that means that it replaces things in sentences. Ne has multiple uses but in today’s lesson, we will focus on its main uses. Then, in the future, we will cover more advanced uses of this pronoun.
Before we start diving into ne, I need to make sure you know what partitivo is. Partitivo is a specific part of the sentence introduced by a preposition or two adjectives to convey the idea of part of something (that’s why partitivo) or a quantity not specified in number. Let me give you some examples:
Voglio del caffè = I want some coffee (a part of it not all of it)
I want some delle mele = I bought some apples (quantity not specified in number)
I can also say:
Voglio alcune mele/qualche mela
When the partitivo is singular (so we’re talking about a part of something) we will use:
DI + definite article + a singular noun
When you are referring to a quantity not specified in number you can use
DI + definite article + a plural noun
Alcuni/e (masculine and feminine) + a plural noun
Qualche + a singular noun.
Sometimes qualche + a singular noun confuses students because why would you use a singular noun to refer to multiple things? And you’re right, it’s confusing! But think about the word every in English. You would say every day but you mean multiple days! Qualche is the same thing! You use a singular noun, but the real meaning behind it is plural.
Just to do a quick recap:
Delle mele → some apples
Alcune mele → some apples
Qualche mela → some apples
You’re saying exactly the same thing!
2. HOW TO USE NE
Now that we know what partitivo is, we can move on to ne. This is because ne replaces a noun in the partitive sense (introduced by di + article, alcuni/e, qualche) or a noun introduced by a number or an expression of quantity (poco, molto, tanto, chilo, litro). We need to see some examples:
Hai molti vestiti? Sì, ne ho molti! → Do you have many clothes? Yes, I have many (of them).
Quante fette di pane vuoi? Ne voglio tre, grazie → How many slices of bread do you want? I want three (of them), thanks!
Hai molti amici? No, ne ho pochi! → Do you have many friends? No, I have few (of them)
Vuoi dei cioccolatini? Sì, ne voglio due, grazie! → Do you want some chocolate? Yes, I want two, thanks!
One thing you can notice here, and this is very important, is that you can’t use NE alone in the sentence. If we go back to the first example you can’t say just ne ho, you need to add how many, so molti. Or tre, quattro, un chilo, pochi. Ne does not work alone in a sentence, therefore you need to add the quantity!
One of the hardest things about NE is understanding its difference with direct object pronouns. If you don't know what direct object pronouns are, you can have a look at this article.
For example, if I say:
Compri le mele? And I want to say that I buy them, there’s no need to use NE because I am not expressing a quantity so I will say: Sì, le compro.
But If I ask Quante mele compri, the person I am talking to is expecting a number (or quantity) from me in the answer so I a going to say: Ne compro 3, molte, un chilo, whatever! Just don't forget to add the quantity!
ATTENZIONE: Just remember that when you’re using NE in a sentence with passato prossimo the past participle changes according to the gender and number of the object you replace:
Hai mangiato la pizza? Sì, ne ho mangiate due! (of pizze)
Quanti libri hai letto quest’estate? Ne ho letti tre! (of libri)