How to Use the Tiny Word Ne in Italian

Learn how to use the pronoun particle ne

Italian cheese stall in Tuscany
Italian cheese stall in Tuscany. Image Source

“I have two brothers. How many brothers do you have?”

“I have three brothers.”

While the above conversation is perfectly acceptable and constitutes a real interaction, it sounds strange because the two people talking find it necessary to repeat “brothers” over and over again when they could use a replacement like “of them”. In Italian, you would do that using the word “ne” and unlike English, you can't just say "I have three" or "How many do you have?".

Like reflexive, indirect and direct object pronouns, tiny words like “ne” can drive the Italian language student insane.

What’s the real definition? Where do you place it? When do you use it?

However, the power in a tiny word like “ne” is its flexibility and as you have more conversations, it’s easier to recognize how much it helps to smooth out conversations.

While you can easily learn the definitions of the pronoun particle “ne” and where to place it in a sentence, it’s most helpful to start with fixed phrases where you might be more familiar with hearing or using “ne”.

Here are some common phrases you may have heard/used using “ne”:

  • Che ne pensi? - What do you think (about it)?
  • Non ne ho. - I don’t have any (of them).
  • Vattene! - Get away (from me)!

Here are the various definitions of “ne”:

  • About
  • Any
  • Some
  • Of it
  • From it
  • From them
  • From there

It can also replace a prepositional phrase beginning with da or di. For example, “Ho appena letto quel libro! Che ne pensi? - I just read that book! What did you think (of it)?”

Where to Put “Ne” in a Sentence

When it comes to placement, “ne” typically goes before the conjugated verb. For example:

  • Parliamo di Mario. - We talk about Mario. → Ne parliamo. - We talk about him.
  • Ne avete molti di amici. - You have many friends. → Ne avete molti. - You have many of them.
  • Ho due fratelli. - I have two brothers.  → Ne ho due. - I have two of them.
  • Quanti bambini ci sono?! - How many children are there?! → Ce ne sono quattordici! - There are fourteen of them!
  • Hai del caffè? - Do you some coffee? → Sì, ne ho. - Yes, I have it.
  • Hai bisogno di due francobolli. - You need two stamps. → Ce ne vogliono due. - You need two of them.

Using “Ne” in the Past Tense

If you use “ne” in the present perfect tense (il passato prossimo), you have to make sure that the verb agrees in number and gender with the direct object.

  • Quanti film di Fellini hai visto ? – How many Fellini movies have you seen? → Ne ho visti tre. – I’ve seen four of them.
  • Quante mele avete mangiato? - How many apples did you (all) eat? → Ne abbiamo mangiate sette. - We ate seven (of them).

Pronominal Verbs and “Ne”

You may also see “ne” within other verbs, and these are called pronominal verbs. Here are some examples of those:

  • Andarsene – To leave
  • Venirsene – To come out of it
  • Averne abbastanza – To have enough of something
  • Fregarsene di qualcosa – To not care at all about something
  • Non poterne più – To not be able to do (something) anymore