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I'm studying Italian and I have trouble understanding the grammar and meaning of the expression "non vi è stata" in this excerpt from an article on labour law:

La mia opinione è che, in un processo ormai in atto sin dagli anni ’80, gradualmente il diritto del lavoro si è trasformato in “altro da sé”. Non vi è stata, infatti, soltanto una modifica dei contenuti, anche se è sufficiente mettere a confronto un manuale del 1980 con uno attualmente edito per avere l’impressione che si stia parlando di materie radicalmente diverse.

Could someone please help me understand this?

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! Can you provide the context of this expression? It's difficult to explain the meaning of a sentence without any context. – Charo May 8 at 8:15
  • It is from an article on labour law. The complete sentence (and the preceding one) is: La mia opinione è che, in un processo ormai in atto sin dagli anni ’80, gradualmente il diritto del lavoro si è trasformato in “altro da sé”. Non vi è stata, infatti, soltanto una modifica dei contenuti, anche se è sufficiente mettere a confronto un manuale del 1980 con uno attualmente edito per avere l’impressione che si stia parlando di materie radicalmente diverse. – Hans Chr May 8 at 8:21
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    It’s the same as “non c’è stata”, meaning “there has been not only a change in the contents...” – egreg May 8 at 9:02
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    It's particle "ci" that, in the sentence you provide, corresponds to English "there". See these two answers: italian.stackexchange.com/a/9972, italian.stackexchange.com/a/30. – Charo May 8 at 9:39
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    @HansChr: It's an adverb, as English "there". – Charo May 8 at 9:58
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The Italian expression c’è is exactly the same as the English there is and the French il y a, an impersonal verb meaning state. The apostrophe signals elision of ci, a pronominal particle that primarily means location, but is also used as the atonal version of noi; not in this case.

In this case it is c’è stata, in the “passato prossimo” tense, corresponding to the English there was or there has been.

The author uses vi instead of ci as was common in the past, but nowadays the spoken language always uses ci for this construction. It remains vi in the written language when the author wants to convey an idea of “solemnity”: so it's very common in legal texts and learned essays.

Such register is also signalled by the parenthetical remark between commas:

Non vi è stata, infatti, soltanto una modifica dei contenuti

might be rendered in a form nearer to the spoken language as

Infatti non c'è stata soltanto una modifica dei contenuti

that can be translated into

Indeed, there was not just a change in the contents

Note: soltanto can be either only or just, but the former would require an opposition but also that's missing in the text, so it must be the latter.

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    This is indeed a good anwser. I agree that the equivalents to "c'è" in other romance languages are impersonal verbs (for instance, French "il y a", Spanish "hay" or Catalan "hi ha"). However, I do not see Italian "esserci" or "esservi" as impersonal. In the sentence of the question, for instance, the subject of "vi è stata" is "una modifica". – Charo May 8 at 19:27
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In the expression "vi è stata", "è stata" is "passato prossimo" tense of verb "essere" (i.e., "to be"). One has to use the feminine participle "stata" because the subject of the sentence is "una modifica", which is feminine.

"Vi" is a more formal version of "ci" in the function of adverb and corresponds to English "there". That is, "vi è stata" is the same as "ci" + "è stata" expressed in a more formal way (but "ci" before a form of verb "essere" which begins with "e" is elided with an apostrophe, i.e., one says "c'è").

For instance, if you ask someone

Quando vai al mare?

the answer could be

Ci vado domani,

which means "I'll go there tomorrow" (this example is from the book Grammatica e pratica della lingua italiana per studenti stranieri by Federica Colombo; notice that "vado" is "indicativo presente" tense used to express a future action).

See these two answers for more detailed information about the different roles of the word "ci": [1] and [2].

So, the expression "non vi è stata" means "there has been not". As explained by egreg in a comment,

Non vi è stata, infatti, soltanto una modifica dei contenuti

means, "In fact, there has been not only a change in the contents".

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  • Dunque, posso anche cambiare ci con vi per dire per esempio " Vi vado domani" , oppure solo nella frase ci+essere? – user11731289 May 11 at 23:38
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    @user11731289: Come puoi vedere al punto 1 della voce del vocabolario Treccani, in teoria sì, ma questa frase non mi suona del tutto bene. Credo che il problema sia che "vi" è di uso formale: egreg ha spiegato molto bene nella sua risposta in quali contesti si usa e, in tali contesti, non si userebbe "vado domani" con il verbo al presente per esprimere un'azione futura. – Charo May 12 at 7:07

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