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A Tricky but Useful Pronominal Verb Volerci

It seems like there's no end to the uses of the little particle ci. We've done several lessons on it, and here we are again.

 

As we have seen in previous lessons, ci can mean various things and often has to do with reflexive and reciprocal verbs. It can also be an indirect pronoun that incorporates its preposition within it, and it can be attached to a verb or detached from it. Whew!

 

This time, we are talking about a pronominal verb — the kind of verb that has pronouns and particles connected to it that change the meaning of the verb. In this case, the particle is ci.

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Volerci = volere + ci

With the pronominal verb volerci, we're talking about the amount of something that's necessary to carry something out — time, money, courage, ingredients, attitudes, etc. In the following example, pazienza (patience) is the substance and molto (a lot) is how much you need of it. One way we can translate volerci is "to be necessary," "to be needed," "to be required." Of course, in everyday conversation, we often use "it takes" or "you need," in English, to express this idea.

 

Ci vuole molta pazienza

You need a lot of patience [a lot of patience is necessary].

It takes a lot of patience.

A lot of patience is required.

Caption 25, Professioni e mestieri - Belle Arti -Tecniche di decorazione

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One very important feature of this particular pronominal verb is that it is always in the third person and can be either singular or plural. If we are talking about "patience" as in the previous example, it's singular. If we're talking about ore (hours), as in the following example, it's plural.

 

Quante ore ci vogliono per andare da Roma a Milano?

How many hours does it take to go from Rome to Milan?

How many hours are necessary to go from Rome to Milan?

Caption 17, Marika spiega - La particella NE

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We can use it in the negative:

 

Non ci vuole l'articolo in singolare. In plurale ritorno a volere l'articolo.

You don't need the article in the singular. In the plural I go back to needing the article.

The article is not necessary in the singular.

Captions 20-21, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi

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The Passive Voice can Help 

If in translating volerci, we use the passive voice, we can match it up as far as singular and plural go, and it might make better sense to us.

 

I pinoli, che sono davvero speciali

The pine nuts, which are really special,

ci vogliono i pinoli italiani, ovviamente.

and Italian pine nuts are required, obvously.

Captions 50-51, L'Italia a tavola - Il pesto genovese

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Although volerci is always in the third person, we often translate it into English with the first or second person: "I/we need" or "you need."

 

Common Expressions with Volerci

Volerci is very popular in the expression:

 

Non ci voleva (it would have been better if that hadn't happened, I really didn't need that, that's all I needed).

That's what you say when, say, one bad thing happens after another.

 

Volerci can also be used as an expression of relief when something good happens. It's like saying, "That's just what the doctor ordered."

 

A Dixieland ci si diverte con poco e nulla

At Dixieland one has fun with next to nothing

e un numero di magica magia

and a number with magical magic

era proprio quel che ci voleva

was exactly what was needed

per chiudere in bellezza la festa.

to conclude the party nicely.

Captions 30-33, Dixieland - La magia di Tribo

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Another fun way to use volerci is when you want to say,  "How hard can it be?"

Che ci vuole (how hard can it be)?

 

Le mucche muggiscono. -Embè?

The cows are mooing. -So what?

Vanno munte.

They have to be milked.

Ahi. -Scusa, scusa, scusa, scusa.

Ow! -Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.

-Sei sicura?

Are you sure?

-E sì, che ci vuole?

-Yeah, how hard could it be?

L'avrò visto mille volte su National Geographic.

I must have seen it a thousand times on National Geographic.

Captions 37-42, Sei mai stata sulla luna? - film

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We hope you have a bit more insight into this supremely common and useful pronominal verb (verb+pronoun+preposition all in one). 

 

If you found this lesson helpful, you might very well say, Ci voleva!  (that's exactly what I needed!).

 

TIP

We must also mention that not every time you see volerci (conjugated or in the infinitive) will it mean what we have set out to describe in this lesson. Since, at the outset, we mentioned that ci has a way of working its way into so many kinds of verbs and phrases, context is key. Little by little you will start distinguishing, but it will take time and practice. Watching Yabla videos will give you tons of examples so you can start sorting out the meanings. And don't forget: When you have a doubt, write it in the comments. Someone will get back to you within a few days. If you have a question or doubt, chances are, someone else will have the same one!

 

In a coming lesson, we will discuss a similar but unique pronominal verb metterci. Get a head start by watching Daniela's video lesson about both of these pronominal verbs.

Those Pesky Possessive Adjectives

Becoming comfortable using possessive adjectives and personal pronouns in Italian can be a challenge because they work a bit differently then they do in other languages. To learn about them with Daniela, check out her series of lessons about possessive adjectives:

Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi 

 

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An important thing to remember regarding possessive adjectives is that Italian uses both an article and an adjective (think: the my book), which certainly takes some getting used to. So, "my book" would be: il mio libro. But there's an important exception. Daniela explains that family members get special treatment in terms of possessive adjectives:

 

Regola generale: l'aggettivo possessivo in italiano vuole sempre l'articolo, tranne in un caso, quando parlo della famiglia, della mia famiglia, dei miei parenti stretti in singolare. In questo caso non voglio l'articolo. Non dico: il mio padre, la mia madre. Dico: mio padre, mia madre.

General rule: the possessive adjective in Italian always needs the article except in one case, when I talk about the family, about my family, about my close relatives in the singular. In this case I don't want the article. I don't say: the my father, the my mother. I say: my father, my mother.

Captions 44-50, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi - Part 6

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There is also another special case: an exception to the exception. When the nouns denoting family members become altered nouns (see this lesson about altered nouns), as in sorellina (little sister) instead of sorella (sister), or mamma (mom) rather than madre (mother), we put back the article!

Ho fatto una passeggiata con la mia sorellinaMio fratello ci ha accompagnato.
I went for a walk with my little sisterMy brother came with us.

See this article about mamma (not a totally clear cut case) and other family terms of endearment. 

See this chart about possessive adjectives, summing up in English what Daniela has been talking about in Italian.

Here are some exercises to test your comprehension:

Try this online exercise.
Do a short quiz.
Take another short quiz.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Possessive adjectives are just plain tricky. Not only do you need to know the rules, but you need to get plenty of practice before they become second nature, so be patient with yourselves and you will slowly but surely start getting these pesky possessive adjectives right, more often than wrong! 

Grammar

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