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’hoI 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 qualcunomeans “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 pronounCi 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 pronounCi 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 areC’è, ci sono

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