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.
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.Play Caption
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 - Part 2Play Caption
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 - Part 6Play Caption
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 e ci vogliono i pinoli italiani, ovviamente.
The pine nuts, which are really special, and Italian pine nuts are required, obvously.
Captions 50-51, L'Italia a tavola Il pesto genovese - Part 1Play Caption
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."
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 e un numero di magica magia era proprio quel che ci voleva per chiudere in bellezza la festa.
At Dixieland one has fun with next to nothing and a number with magical magic was exactly what was needed to conclude the party nicely.
Captions 30-33, Dixieland La magia di TriboPlay Caption
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? Vanno munte. Ahi. -Scusa, scusa, scusa, scusa. -Sei sicura? -E sì, che ci vuole? L'avrò visto mille volte su National Geographic.
The cows are mooing. -So what? They have to be milked. Ow! -Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Are you sure? -Yeah, how hard could it be? I must have seen it a thousand times on National Geographic.
Captions 37-42, Sei mai stata sulla luna? film - Part 11Play Caption
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!).
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.