You see it everywhere and it causes you to scratch your head:
- Me ne vado.
- Te ne do tre.
- Ne ho due.
- Ne abbiamo parlato ieri.
- Non ne capisco il motivo.
It's that little word ne, technically called a pronominal particle. Much like reflexive, indirect, and direct object pronouns, it's the kind of multifaceted little thing that sneaks in here and there and vexes even the most assiduous student of the Italian language.
Fear not: Once its purpose is made clear to you, you will master it. Like all pronouns, it is simply there to make it possible for us to have a conversation without constantly repeating what it is that we are talking about.
Ne as the Unspoken
In English, this is accomplished by inference or through similar pronouns. Take this little dialogue:
"Did you tell your brother about the apples?"
"Yes, we talked about them (the apples) yesterday."
"Why did you talk about it (them, the apples)?"
"Because he wanted to talk (about the apples)."
"Does he want any apples?"
"He wants seven (apples)."
Imagine if you had to repeat those apples every time.
In Italian, you use ne in their place:
"Hai parlato con tuo fratello delle mele?"
"Sì, ne abbiamo parlato ieri."
"Perché ne avete parlato?"
"Perché ne voleva parlare."
"E ne vuole, di mele?"
"Ne vuole sette."
Ne as About or Of
The first thing ne means is about something or of something-something we are talking about and we don't want to repeat.
- Voglio andare a vedere un film. Che ne pensi? I want to go see a movie. What do you think about that?
- Ieri ho visto Michele. Poi te ne parlo. Yesterday I saw Michele. Later I will tell you about it.
- Giulia ha detto che ha conosciuto tua sorella; me ne ha parlato molto. Giulia said she met your sister; she spoke of her at length with me.
- Franco si è offeso; non ne capisco il motivo. Franco got offended; I don't understand the reason for/of it.
- Luigi mi ha regalato due scatole di arance. Non so cosa farne. Luigi gave me two boxes of oranges. I don't know what to make with/of them.
(Note: In all of those cases the ne serves as an indirect object pronoun of sorts because those constructions with those verbs require indirect object pronouns: parlare di, pensare di, fare con/di.)
To Go From Here
With a verb of movement, ne also substitutes for a place: from here; from there.
- Me ne vado. I am leaving (from here).
- Se n'è andato. He left (from here or wherever we are talking about).
- Me ne voglio andare. I want to go (from here).
- Da qui ne viene che ho ragione. From here (whatever we are talking about) we must conclude that I am right.
The other use of ne is as a quantitative partitive particle-a pronoun used when referring to a part of something we are talking about. It means some of, any, or none of whatever we are talking about.
- Che belle fragole. Me ne dai due? What beautiful strawberries! Would you give me two (of them)?
- Ho bisogno di mele. Ne prendo cinque. I need some apples. I will take five (of them).
- Ho comprato dei bellissimi biscotti al forno Te ne do qualcuno. I bought some beautiful cookies at the bakery. I'll give you a few (of them).
- Sto bevendo del vino. Ne vuoi? I am drinking some wine. Do you want (some of it)?
- Carlo mi ha offerto del vino ma non ne ho voluto. Carlo offered me some wine but I didn't want (any of it).
- Avete altre magliette, per favore? Ne vedo solo due. Do you have other T-shirts, please? I only see two (of them).
As you can see, in Italian you can't just imply the something you are talking about: you have to use the pronoun.
Where to Put Ne in a Sentence
Whether serving as a partitive particle or meaning about something, ne goes before the conjugated verb. For example:
- Parliamo di Mario. We talk about Mario. → Ne parliamo. We talk about him.
- Avete molti 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 have some coffee? → Sì, ne ho. - Yes, I have (some of it).
- Voglio che mi parli di Marco. I want you to tell me about Marco. → Te ne parlo domani. I will tell you (about him) tomorrow.
After the Verb
If you are using ne with an infinitive or an imperative verb mode, the ne is attached to the verb, as with other pronouns or pronominal particles. (In those constructions those verbs are called pronominal verbs: some use ne; some use reflexive-sounding little particles and even indirect object pronouns or both.)
In these cases, ne means the same things explained above.
Here are some examples in the infinitive:
- Andarsene: To leave (take oneself) (from somewhere)
- Averne abbastanza: To have enough (of something)
- Fregarsene: To not care (about something); to shrug (something) off
- Non poterne più: To not be able to endure (something) anymore.
The other rules of the infinitive apply as always. So, with auxiliary verbs, for example:
- Voglio andarmene OR me ne voglio andare. I want to leave (from here).
- Voglio dartene due OR te ne voglio dare due. I want to give you two (of whatever we are talking about).
- Non posso parlartene OR non te ne posso parlare. I can't talk with you (about it).
When those verbs are conjugated, the pronoun moves:
- Me ne vado! I am leaving (from here).
- Ne ho abbastanza. I have enough (of something).
- Non me ne frega niente. I don't care (about whatever we are talking about).
- Non ne posso più. I can't stand (whatever) anymore.
In the imperative, as always, the pronoun is attached to the verb:
- Vattene! Go away (from here)!
- Andatevene! Leave (from here)!
- Fregatene! Shrug (whatever) off!
As you can see in all of these examples, the ne just substitutes for whatever it is we are talking about, as explained above.
Basta! Non ne parliamo più!