The mysterious combination of the pronoun ci and the verb avere
Everybody agrees that the pronoun ci is, probably, one of the most mysterious words in Italian, and thus, I thought it would be great to dive, in this post, into the use of ci when used in conjugation with the verb avere: this is a very peculiar and common use of “ci” in Italian.
1. Ce l’ho. Non ce l’ho – I have it / I don’t have it
You may have heard the phrase “Ce l’ho” and wondered what it means, or more specifically, what the “ce” means in that sentence. Well, you’ll be relieved to know that it doesn’t actually have a specific grammatical function.
“Ce l’ho” translates to “I have it,” so if you’ve been using “l’ho” up to this point, you’ve been mistaken.
Although the extra “ce” doesn’t serve a particular grammatical purpose, it’s added to improve the sound of the sentence. This use likely originated from a desire to avoid a cacophony (an unpleasing phonetic sound) when using just “l’ho/le ho/li ho” or its extreme brevity.
This rule applies every time the verb “avere” is preceded by a direct object pronoun (e.g., lo, la, li, le). Therefore, the sentences “ce l’ho” and “non ce l’ho” indicate whether 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
Of course, the ce is also added in front of all the different forms of the verb, like in the following examples:
- Hai una macchina? Sì, ce l’ho! – Do you have a car? Yes, I do (I have it)
- Hai le chiavi? No, non ce le ho! – Do you have your keys? No, We don’t (I don’t have them)
- Avete tempo? Non ce l’abbiamo! – Do you guys have time? – No, we don’t (we don’t have it)
Note that in Italian, the pronoun “l’,” which stands for “lo” (masculine singular) and “la” (feminine singular), changes to “li” (masculine plural) and “le” (feminine plural) when referring to objects in the plural form. For example, when saying “I have them” or “I don’t have them,” we would use “li” or “le” instead of “l’.” The apostrophe is used just in the singular forms with “it”.
- Ce l’ho (I have it) – ce li/le ho (I have them)
- Ce l’hai (you have it) – ce li/le hai (you have them)
- Ce l’ha (he/has has it)- ce li/le ha (he/she has them)
- Ce l’abbiamo (we have it) – ce li/le abbiamo (we have them)
- Ce l’avete (you all have it) – ce li/le avete (you all have them)
- Ce l’hanno (they have it) – ce li/le hanno (they have them)
English vs. Italian
In English, when someone asks if you have something, it’s typical to reply using auxiliaries, like in the example “Do you have the keys? Yes, I do.” In Italian, however, the same structure is not used, and instead, the verb used in the question is repeated in the response, as in “Hai le chiavi? Sì, ce le ho” (do you have the keys? Yes, I have them)
2. Avercela con qualcuno – to be mad at someone
Let’s go one step further; by adding the preposition “con” to ce l’ho, we have created a completely new sentence.
In fact, the informal Italian phrase “ce l’ho con qualcuno” means “I’m upset or I’m angry with someone.”
- Ce l’ho con il mio vicino di casa, perché parcheggia la sua macchina davanti al mio portone – I am angry with my neighbor because he parks his car in front of my door.
Avercela is not to be confused with the form of avere indicating possession, because it is always followed by the preposition con.
- Ce l’ho – I have it
- Ce l’ho con te – I’m mad at you
The other meanings of the particle “ci”
Don’t forget that ci has many different other functions, as follows:
- “Ci” as a reflexive pronoun → Ci svegliamo alle 6 – we wake up at six
- “Ci” as a direct object pronoun → Ci conosci? – Do you know us?
- “Ci” as an indirect object pronoun → Ci ha regalato un biglietto gratis per il concerto – she gave us a free ticket for the concert
- “Ci” as an adverb of place → Ci vado il prossimo mese – I’m going there next month
- “Ci” as in the forms there is, there are → C’è, ci sono
February 4, 2019 @ 5:57 am
I am an italian language learner …..
How much does it cost to receive your „ Italian pills“ or any other tipps for
improving- and how easy or difficult is the „ unsubscribing“ !!!
February 4, 2019 @ 8:32 am
Ciao Ulrike, everything I post is for free. You can subscribe to my blog to get notified when you a new free post is published. I am not sending any newsletter at moment, but if at any time you want to unsubscribe you need just to press the button ‘unsubscribe’ at the of the mail you receive. Grazie 🙂
February 4, 2019 @ 4:01 pm
Grazie per il tuo lavoro.
February 4, 2019 @ 7:53 pm
grazie per passare dal mio blog 🙂
September 8, 2020 @ 5:08 pm
Grazie! That was a very helpful explanation about a confusing point— ce l’ho !
September 8, 2020 @ 8:38 pm
Sono felice di aiutarti!
February 15, 2021 @ 12:32 am
Hello, I have a question, I googled about this because I just saw “c’ho” I knew about ce l’ho but never saw the other, is it correct or is just a typo?
February 15, 2021 @ 11:30 am
“C’ho” is incorrect, nevertheless, it is used in some dialects or very colloquial language.
March 29, 2021 @ 6:12 pm
Non capeva perché nella canzone de Dora l’Esploratrice, Zainetto canta “tutto quello che ti serve io ***ce l’ho*** per te”. Grazie mille per la spiegazione.
August 11, 2022 @ 8:43 pm
Great explanation about “ci”!
October 14, 2022 @ 11:56 pm
Grazie. That was very helpful. Rhonda