What I need

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Learn Italian: Learn how to say “I need” in Italian with three different phrases.

Ho bisogno di… 

When we express our needs, we are also communicating our feelings, and the ability to do this in different ways makes our language skills much more rich.  In Italian, there are several verb phrases that can be chosen if one want to express a need: “ho bisogno di,” “mi serve,” and “averne voglia.”  Many times, these three verb phrases are interchangeable, but there are subtle differences that determine the choice one makes to use each one.

The very popular phrase, “ho bisogno di…” means, “I need…”  The verb ho is, of course the first person conjugation of the verb avere, which means “to have.” Avere can be conjugated and used with bisogno di if you want to ask, “Hai bisogno di…?” “Do you need…?” or state “he/she needs, we need, you all need, they need.”

Any beginning student of Italian no doubt has come across avere bisogno di and has probably already used it in conversation practice in its first person form ho bisogno di.  Let’s take a closer look at this phrase and describe in detail how it can be used.

According to the online dictionary WordReference.com, the word bisogno* is a noun that means a “need,” or, more forcefully, a “longing/desire/craving.”

When bisogno is used with ho in the phrase “ho bisogno di,” the literal meaning is “I have need of…” But we translate this expression into English simply as, ” I need.”  By using the phrase “ho bisogno di…” one can then describe a need for a person, a thing (usually abstract) or a physical need. Although avere bisogno di may sometimes be heard in reference to a concrete object, avere bisogno di is correctly used to refer to a physical need one has whether it be or a person or something abstract, like a vacation or rest.

Remember to conjugate the verb avere into the tu form if you want to ask someone a question using this expression, which then becomes, “Hai bisogno di…?” 

Also, leave out the word “di,” which means “of” in this phrase when placing the phrase at the end of a sentence.


avere bisogno di… to have need of…  
 Ho bisogno di… I need…  
…a person Ho bisogno di… te.
I need you.
…a thing / something
(usually abstract)
Ho bisogno di… prendere una vacanza.
I need to take a vacation.
…a physical need Ho bisogno di… riposarmi.
I need to rest.
  Ho bisogno di un grande abbraccio!
I need a big hug!
Abbracci e baci sono due cose di cui ho bisogno!
Hugs and kisses are two things that I need! 
Hai bisogno di…  (Do) you need…  
…a person Hai bisogno di… me?
…a thing/ something Hai bisogno di… una macchina nuova?
  Hai bisogno di… prendere una vacanza?
…a physical need Hai bisogno di… riposarti?


A saying with avere bisogno di:

Non abbiamo  bisogno di giorni migliori,

ma di persone che rendono migliori i nostri giorni!

We don’t need to have better days,

instead, people who make our days better!

*There is also a verb, bisognare, which means “to be necessary,” or “to be essential.”   Bisognare can be used alone to describe when it is necessary to do something in a general sense. “Bisogna studiare bene per imparare un’altra lingua,” for instance, means: “It is necessary to study well to learn another language.”

A note about the phrase “ho bisogno di”  for more advanced students of Italian:

When we come to more complex sentences, and one person wants to express what he/she needs another person to do, the phrase “ho bisogno di” is not used. Instead, the verb voglio (I want) is used with the subjunctive, as in, “Voglio che tu…”

In other words, if I need someone to paint my house, and I want to ask one person to do this job, when speaking in Italian I have to ask  that person directly. I cannot say, “I need you to…,” which is somewhat of an oblique way of asking someone to do something. I have to say, “I want you to…”

This is an important difference between Italian and English; in English we sometimes default to the verb “need” when we mean “want,” perhaps because we do not use the subjunctive mood to soften this request. Anyway, instead of saying, “I need you to paint my house this week,” in Italian we would say, “I want you to paint my house this week.”

Another example: in English we might say to a friend, “I need you to take care of the cats when I am on vacation.”  The Italian translation would be, “Voglio che tu ti prenda cura dei gatti quando io sono in vacanza.”

Mi serve…

The phrase, “mi serve” also means “I need.”  This phrase uses the verb servire (to need) but, unlike avere bisogno di, describes a concrete, rather than a physical necessity.

Servire is used to describe the need of something that will allow one to achieve an objective or goal, or to  complete an action. When describing what you need to pack for the vacation that “tu hai bisogno,” use “mi serve”!  This expression in the plural, mi servono, is especially useful when making a list of the things one needs, such as the materials to complete a job or the groceries to cook a specific meal.

Servire is  one of several verbs that are conjugated most often in the third person singular and plural. With the verb servire, the subject is always “it,” and an indirect object pronoun is added before the verb to receive the action. The most commonly used verb of this type is piacere, which uses the Italian construction, “It is pleasing to me,” for the English, “I like it.” 

If you need to review how the verb piacere works, please visit our blog Piacere: How Italians Say, “I like it!”

Rather than go through the entire conjugation of the verb servire, for our purposes it will suffice to mention the two most important conjugations; the third person singular is serve, and the third person plural is servono.

To say, “I need… one thing,” use the phrase, “Mi serve… una cosa.”

For instance, going back to one of our previous examples:

Mi serve una macchina nuova per il mio lavoro. I need a new car for my job.

There are two important expressions that use “mi serve:”

Non mi serve niente. I don’t need anything.
Non mi serve nient’altro. I don’t need anything else.


To say, ” I need… many things,” use the phrase, “Mi servono… tante cose.”

Mi servono is particularly useful if you need to make a list of several things you need in order to complete a job, as noted above. For instance, to cook pasta:

Mi servono una pentola grande, dell’aqua, e un po’ di sale.
I need a big pot, some water, and a little bit of salt.

Averne voglia…

Voglia is a noun that translates as  “desire,” “longing,”  or “craving.” In some situations, voglia can communicate a need in a more forceful or urgent way than the expressions “ho bisogno di,” or “mi serve.Voglia can be used alone in several common interjections and is also is often linked to the verb/preposition combination avere + di to make the phrase “avere voglia di.” 

Listed below are some of the many Italian expressions that use voglia. Notice the different shades of meaning this Italian word can have in each expression. 

A voglia! You bet!  For sure!
Hai voglia! Sure! Of course! You can do as you like! (interjection)
voglia di vivere desire to live, will to live
aver proprio voglia di to really want
avere una voglia matta di to be dying to do something

Finally, in the Italian spoken between friends, the verb averne voglia can be used to ask someone “if” they “feel like” doing something or not, the so-called hypothetical situation.  The use of ne adds a little extra force to the question and the answer — either positive or negative. 

The verb averne voglia is handy to use in many situations is a popular phrase used in Italy today, so it is helpful for a student of Italian to know how to use it in a basic way. Just conjugate the verb avere as usual, but add “ne” before the verb combination. 

When using ne in an answer to a question, ne will take the place of the topic of conversation, so do not repeat the topic in the question again. Therefore, the use of ne also avoids repetition of phrases to create a conversation that flows easily. We follow the same convention in English as well! Check out the last examples to see how this is done.  

Below is a table with some common expressions that use voglia and averne voglia to express if one “feels like” doing something… or not!

avere voglia to feel like
Ho voglia di… I feel like…
Hai voglia di…? Do you feel like…?
Hai voglia di andare al cinema stasera? Do you feel like going to the movies tonight?
Si, ho voglia di andare al cinema. Yes, I feel like going to the movies.
No, non ho voglia di andare al cinema. No, I don’t feel like going to the movies.
Se ne hai voglia, potremmo andare al cinema stasera. If you feel like it, we could go to the movies tonight.
Si, ne ho voglia. Yes, I feel like it.
No, non ne ho voglia stasera. No, I don’t feel like it tonight.



There are, of course, many more situations in which one could describe what they need using “Ho bisogno di…,” Mi serve…,” or “Me ne voglia…
How many more can you think of?


Remember how to use the phrases “Ho bisogno di…,” Mi serve…,” and “Me ne voglia… to describe what you need in Italian.
 I guarantee
you will use these phrases every day!


About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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