The mysterious combination of the pronoun ci and the verb avere

Everybody agrees that the pronoun ci is, probably, one of the most mysterious word in Italian, and thus, I thought it would be great to discuss in the post, the use of ci when occurring with the forms of the verb avere.

1.Ce l’hai? Ce l’ho! Non ce l’ho!

I am sure you might already have heard the phrase ce l’ho and wondered what does it mean. Or better, what does the ce mean in that sentence. Well, you will be relieved to know that..it means nothing!

When someone asks you, if you have something, you can either answer by saying you have it or not. In the same way, in Italian, when indicating the possession of an object previously mentioned (in a question, for instance), the combination of the verb avere (to have) and the direct object pronoun (it), is required.

Hence, the sentences ce l’ho and non ce l’ho indicates that you have something or not.

  • Hai un cane? – Do you have a dog?
  • Ce l’ho – I have it
  • Non ce l’ho – I don’t have it

What is the function of the ce in the examples? Well, it has not a specific grammar function. Nevertheless, it is obligatory to have it there when combining a form of avere with a direct objec pronoun.

  • ce le abbiamo – we have them
  • ce li avete – do you (all) have them?
  • non ce l’ho avuto mai – I haven’t ever had it

This use, probably, stems from a desire to avoid the cacophony of using simply l’ho/le ho/li ho or its extreme brevity.

The only rule to apply is, to transform ci in ce, as it always happens when a direct pronoun follows ci.

2. Avercela con qualcuno

There is another colloquial and common construction of the pronoun ci with avere and occurs, precisely, with the pronominal verb avercela, which means, to be angry with someone.

  • Con chi ce l’hai? – With whom are you angry?
  • Ce l’ho con il mio collegaI am angry with my colleague

Avercela is not to be confused with the form of avere indicating possession, as, it is always followed by the preposition con.

Avercela has quite the same meaning of the verb arrabbiarsi, a verb you might already be familiar with. What’s the difference between the two? Well, I’d just say avercela is far more colloquial than arrabbiarsi. Thus, it’s up to you which one to use.

Don’t forget that ci has many different other meanings, as follows:

  1. reflexive pronoun → ci svegliamo alle 6 – we wake up at 6
  2. direct object pronoun→  ci conosci? – Do you know us?
  3. indirect object pronoun → ci ha regalato un biglietto gratis per il concerto – she gave us a free ticket for the concert
  4. adverb of place →  Ci vado il prossimo mese – I am going there next month
  5. There is, there are → c’è, ci sono