The pronoun ne can be confusing to English speakers, but it is not difficult to understand once you know how it works. After learning these rules, try to work it into your Italian. Practice using it in your writing and speaking so that it becomes second nature to you.
Ne has the following functions in Italian:
1. Ne is used to replace partitive constructions. Consider it a way to avoid repeating the same thing over again. See the example below:
Vuoi del latte?
Do you want some milk?
No, non ne voglio. (ne = del latte)
No, I do not want any (of it).
As you can see in the example, del latte (some milk) is replaced with the preposition ne which translates in English as any (of it).
Think of ne as a special object pronoun for the partitive.
2. When the partitive is modified by an adjective, only the noun is replaced by ne, and the adjective remains and follows the preposition, di:
Vuoi del latte fresco?
Do you want some fresh milk?
Sì, grazie! Ne vorrei di fresco. (ne = del latte)
Yes, thank you! I would like some (of the fresh stuff).
Hai visto dei film interessanti di recente?
Have you seen any interesting films recently?
Sì, ne ho visti di interessanti.
Yes, I have seen some interesting ones.
3. Ne is used to substitute nouns when numbers and quantities (definite* or indefinite** but not tutto***) are involved. The rule is this: when the direct object is missing in the presence of a definite or indefinite quantity, then ne must be used.
Take note when the noun being replaced is modified by an adjective. The quantity and adjective remain, and the adjective agrees in gender and number with the item being replaced by ne. See the examples below:
Vorresti due mele?
Would you like two apples?
Si, grazie! Ne vorrei due.
Yes, thank you! I would like two (of them).
Vorresti due mele rosse?
Would you like two red apples?
Si, grazie! Ne vorrei due rosse.
Yes, thank you! I would like two red ones.
Quante riviste hai ricevuto?
How magazines did you receive?
Ne ho ricevute tre. (ne = tre riviste)
I received three (of them).
Compra sempre troppe mele.
She always buys too many apples.
Perchè ne compra troppe? (ne = troppe mele)
Why does she buy so many of them?
It should be noted that the past participle generally must agree in gender and number with the object which ne has replaced. In second example above, ne replaced ‘magazines’ (le riviste) causing the past participle to become ricevute.
Take note the agreement of the past participle when ne replaces definite and indefinite quantities that are not numbers in compound tenses (see rule #7):
Non ti piace la Diet?
You don’t like the diet soda?
No, mi dispiace. Però ne ho bevuto un sorso.
No, sorry. But I drank a sip of it. (ne = della Diet)
4. Ne replaces prepositional phrases introduced by the preposition, di.
Hai scritto della polemica?
Did you write about the controversy?
Si, ne ho scritto. (ne = della polemica)
Yes, I wrote about it.
5. Ne can also be used to substitute prepositional phrases introduced by da, but only when the phrase represents motion from a place. Ne normally does not replace the agent in passive sentences (introduced by da):
Il cane ha corso nella stanza da letto, ma ne è uscito subito. (ne = dalla stanza da letto).
The dog ran into the room, but he went out immdiately.
6. Ne can also be used with verbs that use the preposition, da, such as:
Conoscevi Gino oggi?
You met Gino today?
Sì, comunque non ne ho ottenuto nulla. (ne = da Gino, da lui)
Yes, however I did not obtain anything from him.
Other verbs with da:
7. Ne influences the past participle in compound tenses in certain situations, while in
others it does not:
-Ne does not influence the past participle to agree when replacing prepositional phrases (see section #4, #6).
-Ne does influence the past participle when it replaces a number or an indefinite quantity, where the past participle agrees in gender and number with the noun substituted for with ne:
Ho comprato tre mele.
Ne ho comprate tre.
-If the quantity is indicated by another noun (etto, chilo, pacco, cesto, tazza, sacco) the past participle agrees with the quantity noun and not with the object that was replaced):
Quante mele hai comprato al supermercato?
How many apples did you buy at the supermarket?
Ne ho comprato un etto.
I bought 100 grams of them.
(see how the past participle agrees with etto and not le mele)
-With reflexive verbs, the past participle agrees with the object replaced by ne and not with the subject (remember, that with reflexive verbs, si becomes se before ne):
Giovanna si è comprata tre gonne.
Giovanna bought herself three skirts.
Giovanna se ne è comprate tre.
Giovanna bought herself three of them.
8. Ne is also used in various idiomatic expressions (as seen below). Remember that in many of these constructions, ne is not translated literally and may have no meaning in the sentence:
farne a meno
non poterne più
valerne la pena
combinarne di tutti i colori
*Definite quantities: any number (1, 10, 100, 12012, ecc.), etto, chilo, pacco, cesto, tazzo,
sacco, sorso, etc.
**Indefinite quantities are: molto, poco, troppo, tanto, nessuno, alcuno, qualcuno
*** Tutto is never used with ne because, as it means “all” or “whole”, there’s no partitive.