Expressing the partitive
How do you express an approximate quantity in Italian? There are several ways to say some (or any, if in a question) in Italian. The following structure is used when followed by any noun, whether it is something you can easily count (countable) or not easily count (uncountable). As in English, countables take the plural form (some berries), while uncountables remain singular (some coffee):
1. Preposition di + definite article [some; any]
Vorrei del pane, per favore.
Vorrei dello zucchero, per favore.
Vorrei dell’acqua, per favore.
Vorrei dei mirtilli, per favore.
Vorrei degli zucchini, per favore.
Vorrei delle mele, per favore.
There are two more options , but they may only be used with nouns that can be easily counted (countables):
2. qualche [some; any] takes a singular noun in Italian
Vorrei qualche limone, per favore.
Vorrei qualche patata, per favore.
3. alcuni / alcune [some; any] takes a plural noun in Italian
Vorrei alcuni limoni, per favore.
Vorrei alcune patate, per favore.
You could also say un po’ di [a bit of] for a slightly different nuance, as in Vorrei un po’ di burro.
So: how can you say I’m going to buy some bottles of wine?
- Compro delle bottiglie di vino.
- Compro qualche bottiglia di vino.
- Compro alcune bottiglie di vino.
Notice that for grocery shopping, especially fruits and vegetables, di + article is the preferred and most often chosen option.
And how can you say I drink some milk? Bevo del latte is the only option, as latte is considered uncountable. However, if you are drinking glasses of milk, then you can technically count the glasses, and say, for example bevo qualche bicchiere di latte and bevo alcuni bicchieri di latte.
In Italian you may not use the partitive in a negative sentence, as in non bevo latte and non compro fragole.