Partitives In Italian: Using The Word 'Ne'

While the partitive exists in English, it goes mostly unused. Like so many other things in English, we understand it by implication. But as with so many other languages, implication alone isn't good enough for Italian grammar.

What is a partitive?

The partitive is a special kind of pronoun which functions as a back-reference. It refers back to a direct object specified in a previous sentence - or possibly later in the current sentence.

Observe the following examples:

_-Do you want some coffee?

-No, thanks. I don't want any (of it).

-Would you like some pie?

-Yes, I would love a piece (of it).

In both of the examples, the partitive "of it" is generally omitted in English. We understand the partitive by implication. But in Italian, implication is not enough. Grammatically, a noun or pronoun must be specified. And that's where ne comes in.

I've had enough "of it"!

The Italian word ne is a partitive pronoun. That is, it is a noun which refers to another noun, or a portion thereof.

-Quante birre hai bevuto ieri sera?

-Ne ho bevute quattro.

-Vorrebbe del caffè?

-Grazie, no. Non ne bevo.

In the first example, when asked how many beers were drunk the night before, the response is "ne ho bevute quattro", or "I had four (of them)." Also an important thing to note here is the way that using ne requires the participle to agree in gender with the object noun being referenced. Hence bevute rather than bevuto.

In the second example, the response to an offer of coffee is "non ne bevo", meaning I don't drink it. The "of it" isn't immediately clear, but when you consider the way del is used in Italian to mean some, it becomes more clear. Del literally means "of it", even if it's more comfortable in this case to translate it differently, so here it helps to think of ne meaning "any of it".

Cosa ne pensate?

I think it should be starting to become clear that ne is, basically, a back-reference to di + a noun. And since there are a few other ways that del can be used, it's no surprised that there are also a few other ways that ne can be used.

_Ho conosciuto Maria e ne ho visitato la casa.

I met Maria and visited her house.

Andiamo al cinema, che ne dice?

Let's go to the movies, what do you say?

È un uomo eccezionale, tutti ne parlano con ammirazione.

He's an exceptional man; everyone speaks of him with admiration.</blockquote

In the first example, ne means di Maria, and it completes the possessive la casa di Maria. However it's split because ne belongs grammatically at the beginning of the phrase.

In the second example, we can more readily envision the missing English partitive: "... what do you say (about that)?" Even though it translates better as "about that", it is once again a case where the Italian words being replaced are di + a noun. Cosa dice di questo?

And in the final example, we once again translate the missing partitive more comfortably as "about him", but it's a little easier to make the connection when you think of it as "everyone speaks of him with admiration."

So there it is: the partitive, a fascinating grammatical feature. (And one that makes a lot more sense after a short explanation than it would if you spent weeks trying to figure it out from conversation!)

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  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Hi, there!In foreign languages it is really a challenge to explain grammar topics that they do not have in their mother tongues.The partitive is a natural concept in Italian and in French, but it is not so in English.I would also like to get your feedback on some of our translation topics in this blog:https://blog-de-traduccion.t...Best regards,Amelia

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    One small error that I noticed:When accompanied by 'ne', verbs in the passato prossimo must agree with the object 'ne' is substituting.-Quante birre hai bevuto ieri sera?
    -Ne ho *bevutE* quattro.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Even with avere?I thought that avere verbs got the participle, while essere verbs were matched by gender. Does this rule change somehow because of "ne"?

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    It is simply an additional rule. 'Ne' causes the past participle of transitive verbs to agree in number and gender with the object 'ne' substitutes.Some examples:Della mia classe finora ho conosciuto solo alcuni studenti -->
    Della mia classe finora ne ho *conosciuti* solo alcuni.Ho visto due mie amiche -->
    Ne ho *viste* due.Quanti libri hai letto? -->
    Ancora ne ho *letti* pochi.If you require a more authoritative reassurance than my word, here is a site that explains in detail the usage of 'ne' -

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Thanks for clearing that up for me! I trust your explanation.I can see how it would be helpful. Having the gender agreement might help to clear up any question about what is being referred to.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    That's interesting because Spanish and Italian are so closely related and Spanish (I'm pretty sure) doesn't do this, e.g."Quieres un cafe?""No, no quiero [un cafe]"You could say: "No, no lo quiero", but most people wouldn't, they would just say "No quiero" and leave it at that. Basically, it works just like English except they omit even more by saying "No, no want" instead of "I don't want any".Interesting.Cheers,

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Correct. While lo functions as a sort of back-reference, it is not a partitive. There is no partitive in Spanish. But there is one in French.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    It's the same with the other direct pronouns. If they are before the verb, the passato prossimo must agree in gender/number.Hai preso le chiavi? Sì, le ho presE.
    Hai chiamato Maria? Sì, l'ho chiamatA.
    Chi ha accompagnato voi? Ci ha accompagnati Sergio.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    "Ho visitato Maria, e ne mi è piacuto la casa."
    This sentence is not correct. Say simply: "Ho visitato Maria e mi è piaciuta la sua casa"

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    If I say it that way, it's completely irrelevant, since this post was about using the partitive "ne".I've seen it used in this way before. If the example I created is incorrect, give me an example that is correct.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Aha! Any time they are before the verb. That makes sense. Thanks!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Ciao Randy,
    a correct sentence could be:
    "Ho conosciuto Maria e ne ho visitato la casa".
    I think that the first sentence is not correct because the presence of "mi" lose the sense of the "part".
    In the sentence I propose, I visit Maria's home as a "part of" her belongings, ence the use of a partitif.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Thanks a lot! That's pretty clear.Just one question. Based on the explanations I've gotten below, why is it "visitato" and not "visitata"?I would expect:
    "Ho conosciuto Maria e ne ho visitata la casa."

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Hi Randy, I used the book Da Capo when learning advanced Italian and lots of grammar points like this are explained in that book really well. It's an American book so you should be able to find it. I still use it as a reference as I find it quicker to find the answer that searching on the internet.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Hi! I'm Italian and I teach Italian. Ne ho visitato la casa is correct, because the word 'casa' is already in the sentence and explains all. In this case, it is not correct to change the ending of the verb.Ho mangiato una pizza (no change)
    Ne ho mangiata una (= change in the ending of the verb because the word pizza has disappeared).I hope this helps!This rule applies also to the pronouns of the 4th case (mi, ti, lo, la, ci, vi, li, le).Ho mangiato la pizza
    L'ho mangiata (again the ending of the verb changes)(L'ho is the abbreviation we use for 'la ho' and 'lo ho').Greetings, Sab.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Hi!You must always change the ending of the verbs (even of those used with 'avere') when you use all past tenses (passato prossimo, trapassato prossimo, trapassato remoto, futuro anteriore, condizionale passato, congiuntivo passato and trapassato, gerundio passato...) and the pronouns of the 4th case (mi, ti, lo, la, ci, vi, li, le = me, you, him, her, us, you, them) and 'ne'. Since the pronouns substitute missing words, the endings help explain what the speaker means.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    This to me literally means I knew Maria and about it I visited the its not correct

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Ho visto Una bella casa e ne ho parlato con la mamà

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