What does “CI” mean? (the many meanings of CI) [Ep. 07]

By Manu Venditti | All Levels

Jul 12

Juha from Sydney, Australia asks:
What are the many meanings of "CI"?

And how do I start to get it right? 

What is this "CI" I see everywhere?

One of the most recurring and obscure words in Italian for students of Italian is “CI“. “CI” is a “particle”, that it, it’s a little word that we use to create specific meaning, but it does not refer to an object or anything like that. It is NOT a noun.

In this lesson we look at the many possible meanings of CI and we try to simplify the task of understanding which meaning it’s being used each time.


Meaning of "US" [Direct Object Pronoun]

The most common meaning of “CI” is as a Direct Object Pronoun (the object of a verb). Specifically “CI” refers to anything that has to do with “US” (as in, “you and me”).

Some examples

LORO CI AMANO
They love us

TU CI VEDI
You see us

Like all Direct Object Pronouns, CI goes right before the verb (unlike in English).

The Direct Object Pronouns

MI
TI 
LO
LA
CI
VI
LI
LE

me
you
him/it
her/it
us
you guys
them (masculine)
them (feminine)


Meaning of "TO US" or "FOR US" [Indirect Object Pronoun]

Another common meaning of “CI” is as an Indirect Object Pronoun meaning “FOR US” or “TO US”. It basically replaces the recipient of a verb.

Some examples

LEI CI DA UN LIBRO
She gives us a book (she gives a book to us)

CI HANNO PORTATO UN TIRAMISÙ
They brought us a tiramisù (they brought a tiramisù to us)

Like all Indirect Object Pronouns, CI goes right before the verb (unlike in English).

The Indirect Object Pronouns

MI
TI 
GLI
LE
CI
VI
GLI*

to me / for me
to you / for you
to him / for him
to her/ for her
to us / for us
to you guys / for you guys
to them / for them

There is another way of saying “TO THEM” and it’s with the pronoun “LORO”, which must be placed AFTER THE VERB. 

GLI HO DATO UN REGALO (I gave them a present)
or
HO DATO LORO UN REGALO


Meaning of "OURSELVES" or "EACH OTHER" [Reflexive Pronoun]

When used with Reflexive Verbs or Reciprocal Verbs, “CI” means “OURSELVES” or “EACH OTHER”, based on the context.

Some examples

NOI CI LAVIAMO
We wash ourselves

NOI CI AMAVAMO
We used to love each other

NOI CI RICORDIAMO
We remember

A very frequent and somehow difficult to catch meaning of “CI” is “THERE”, used to replace a place that was previously mentioned.

The Reflexive Pronouns

MI
TI 
SI
CI
VI
SI

myself
yourself
himself, herself, itself, oneself
ourselves, each other
yourselves, each other
themselves, each other


Meaning of "THERE"

A very frequent and somehow difficult to catch meaning of “CI” is “THERE”, used to replace a place that was previously mentioned.

Some examples

– QUANDO VAI A ROMA?
– CI VADO DOMANI

– When are you going to Rome?
– I’m going (there) tomorrow

– PERCHÉ HAI LA BORSA?
– PER METTERCI I SOLDI!

– Why do you have a bag?
– To put money in it

NEL FRIGO C’È UNA BIRRA
There’s a beer in the fridge

PER CENA C’È LA PIZZA
There’s pizza for dinner

TI CI PORTO
I’ll take you there

CI” with the meaning of “THERE” can only be used right BEFORE the verb. It cannot be used at the end of a sentence, with the meaning of “OVER THERE” (for which we use either “LÀ” or “LÌ”).

DOMANI CI VADO
Tomorrow I’m going there (the place we are talking about)

DOMANI VADO LÀ
Tomorrow I’m going there (the place I’m pointing at)


Meaning of "ABOUT IT"

Now this one is really hard to get used to… Sometimes “CI” simply means “ABOUT IT” and refers back to whatever was said… and often is not translated into English.

Some examples

– CHI PREPARA LA CENA?
– CI PENSO IO
– Who’s making dinner?
– I’ll think about it (as in “I’ll take care of it”)

CI PENSI CHE DOMANI SAREMO IN ITALIA?
Can you believe that tomorrow we’ll be in Italy?
(can you think about the fact that …)

– VIENI CON NOI AL CINEMA?
– FAMMICI PENSARE

– Are you coming to the cinema with us?
– Let me think about it

“CI” with the meaning of “ABOUT IT” is often encountered with verbs of opinion like PENSARE (to think), CREDERE (to believe) and TROVARE (to find).


"CI" with basically NO MEANING...! 

And this one is the one that drives most learners of Italian mad. Very often you will see/hear a CI and won’t be able to make sense of it. And that’s because that particular instance of CI has no meaning/translation in English!! Mad, right?

Well, not so much! While it may not have a direct translation into English, that CI has all the right to be there, because it’s part of a verb that you probably don’t know. But think you know!

The verbs below ALL exist in their basic form (the one you probably know) AS WELL AS in their form with the CI attached.

CREDERCI
METTERCI
AVERCELA
FARCELA
VEDERCI

CREDERCI means “to believe in something”, while CREDERE simply means “to believe”.

METTERCI refers to “the time that it takes to do something”, while METTERE means “to put”.

AVERCELA means “to be mad at somebody”, while AVERE clearly means “to have”. Here the CI has been changed to CE to sound better!

FARCELA means “to manage, to succeed at something”, while FARE means “to do” or “to make”. Here too the CI has been changed to CE for sound reasons.

VEDERCI refers to “the ability to see” (not being blind), while VEDERE simply means “to see”.

Some examples

– CREDI AI FANTASMI?
– NO, NON CI CREDO
– Do you believe in ghosts?
– No, I don’t believe in them

QUANTO CI METTE IL TRENO PER ARRIVARE A FIRENZE?
How long does the train take to get to Florence?

CE LA FAI A VENIRE ALLA FESTA?
Can you make it to the party?

VOGLIO APRIRE LA FINESTRA MA NON CE LA FACCIO…
I want to open the window but I can’t (I’m not managing)

MA CHE NON CI VEDI?
Man, can’t you see? Are you blind?

DI SERA NON CI VEDO MOLTO BENE
At night I can’t see too well

AND NOW THE SOLUTION TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS >>>

Well, at least those relating to the Italian particle "CI"!   😉 

A trick to understand which meaning is being given to “CI” when you hear it is to quickly ask yourself the following questions in this exact order:

  • DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH "US"? [us, to us, for us]
  • CAN IT BE REFERRING TO "OURSELVES" OR "EACH OTHER"? 
  • IS IT PERHAPS REPLACING A PLACE THAT WAS MENTIONED EARLIER? 
  • CAN IT MEAN "ABOUT IT"? 
  • CAN IT MEAN "ABOUT IT"? 

If the for all the answer is NO, then you are most likely dealing with a VERB that you think you know, but you actually don’t. That is a verb that uses CI to create a new meaning.

These are like “phrasal verbs” in English (“go up”, “go for”, “go at” etc): if you don’t know the meaning of the verb, you just can’t guess it!

Make a mental note of the verb you heard the CI with and then look it up on a dictionary to discover its actual meaning.

For example, if you hear:
CI PROVO DOMANI

You’d look up PROVARCI to see if it exists with a specific meaning. In this case “to have a go at something”.

I finally know how to use "CI" in Italian! Whoo hoo!! 

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Click on the button below to download the Lesson Notes for this lesson. You will find more examples and some exercises for you to practice! 

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