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Lui ha dei cavalli.

What does dei mean? The sentence comes from Duolingo, and it translates to

He has horses.

I looked up dei in my dictionary, but I am still confused as to what it means in the sentence above.

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Dei in this case is the so called articolo partitivo (partitive article). It means an undefined number of, and can be translated in English with some, a few, or, as in your example, nothing at all. the name partitivo expresses the concept that the quantity you are speaking about is a part of something that is numerable, and is approximate or uncertain, but greater than one. You use degli instead of dei whith the same rules that apply to the article gli instead of i.

You can think of the partitive article as the plural of the indefinite article, so, if you say:

ho scritto un libro

you might also say

ho scritto dei libri

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  • Can this undecided number also be zero? :-) Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 19:15
  • @JackMaddington dei is used with enumerable objects, so "number" stands for natural number, not relative integer, rational, real or complex! So, it cannot be zero, negative or imaginary.
    – CasaMich
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 6:27
  • Many definitions of natural numbers, Peano's and other ones, include zero (but of course a partitive article implies a number greater than zero).
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 8:43
  • @DaG you are right, I will improve my answer. Thanks.
    – CasaMich
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 14:02

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