A common contraction we hear every day in Italian is c’è (there is). If we open it up, we find two words:
Ci (there) and è (third person singular of essere [to be]).
When referring to objects in a place, c'è is fairly straightforward, and its English translation “there is” corresponds quite well:
Nel corpo di Giada non c'è traccia di quel sonnifero.
In Giada's body there is no trace of that sleeping medicine.Play Caption
But things aren't always so straightforward. Let’s look at the following example where, to our ears, it might seem like there’s an extraneous “there.” In fact, the literal translation of the Italian would be “there’s the mama.” Let’s not forget that Italian uses ci to mean “there” and “here” interchangeably for the most part.
...vai, vai tranquillo, c'è la mamma! -Sì, mamma.
...go, don't worry, Mommy's here! -Yes, Mom.
Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 10Play Caption
In the following example, and the previous one, we see that the word order changes between English and Italian. In Italian the ci (there) comes before the conjugated verb “to be,” making the contraction easy, but in English we need to put “there” afterwards:
Sì, ma non c'è nessuno. È tutto serrato.
Yes, but nobody is there. It's all locked up.
Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 1Play Caption
Or, we can put in an extra “there.”
There’s nobody there.
There’s nobody here.
Attenzione! If we want to distinguish between “here” and “there,” then we can use qui and lì.
Il libro non è qui, è lì (the book isn't here; it's there).
Italian uses “there is” to mean “it exists”:
È il minerale più resistente che c'è in natura. Rilassati Gina.
It's the most resistant mineral that exists in nature. Relax, Gina.
Captions 17-18, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 16Play Caption
But there are also colloquial turns of phrase that use “there is” that don't quite correspond to English. The following example is in the imperfetto or simple past.
C'era Lei di turno tre notti fa? -Sì.
Were you on duty three nights ago? -Yes.Play Caption
When asking for someone on the phone, Italians use c’è. Remember that unlike English, questions and statements in Italian have the same word order, but the inflection changes.
Pronto. -Salve, c’è Susanna?
Hello. -Hello, is Susanna there?
When asking what’s wrong, it’s easy to say:
Che c'è? -Niente.
What's the matter? -Nothing.Play Caption
In this case, translating literally (what is there?) does not work at all!
Lastly, let’s not forget the popular song by Nek, Laura non c'è. Note again the fact that ci (here, there) is inserted before the verb “to be.”
Laura non c'è, è andata via
Laura's not here; she's gone away
Caption 1, Nek - Laura non c'èPlay Caption
We’ll often come back to the word ci in lessons, since it really does get around, and can be tricky. For more about ci, see these lessons.