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 

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

Ce l’ho” translates to “I have it,” so if you’ve used “l’ho” up to this point, you’ve been wrong.

Although it doesn’t really have a specific grammatical function, we add the extra “ce” in front of “l’ho” to improve the sound of the sentence.  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 rule applies every time the verb avere is preceded by a direct object pronoun (e.g., lo, la, li, le).

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’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)
  1. Ce l’ho con qualcuno – I’m angry 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 

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

  • “Ci” as a reflexive pronounci svegliamo alle 6 – we wake up at 6 
  • “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 am going there next month
  • “Ci” as in the forms there is, there arec’è, ci sono