Italian Language Blog

A different point of view! Posted by on Jan 3, 2009 in Grammar

Mi piace l’italiano. The preceding sentence is a good example of the confusing difference between English and Italian when we talk about what we like. Literally translated as “Italian pleases me” what it actually means is “I like Italian”. Whereas in English the action of liking moves from the person to the object, in Italian it moves from the object to the person. Not surprisingly English speakers find this a difficult concept to grasp as the point of view is reversed. It’s important to understand that the verb piacere literally means “to please” (“to please” in English comes from the French “plaisir” which in turns comes from the Latin “placere” = Italian “piacere”).

The verb piacere is only used in two basic forms: piace (lit. it pleases) if you like one thing, and piacciono (lit. they please) if you like several things. For example: mi piace l’arte translates literally as “art pleases me” meaning in English “I like art”; mi piacciono le mostre is literally “exhibitions please me” meaning “I like exhibitions”. Let’s have a look at the present tense:

Mi piace il vino = I like wine

Ti piace il vino = you (informal) like wine

Le piace il vino = you (formal) like wine

Gli/le piace il vino = he/she likes wine

Ci piace il vino = we like wine

Vi piace il vino = you like wine

Gli piace il vino = they like wine


Mi piacciono gli spaghetti = I like spaghetti

Ti piacciono gli spaghetti = you (informal) like spaghetti

Le piacciono gli spaghetti = you (formal) like spaghetti

Gli/le piacciono gli spaghetti = he/she likes spaghetti

Ci piacciono gli spaghetti = we like spaghetti

Vi piacciono gli spaghetti = you like spaghetti

Gli piacciono gli spaghetti = they like spaghetti

Note that the person “who likes” is expressed by the indirect pronoun (dative pronoun): mi, ti, gli, le, ci, vi, gli. However in certain cases piacere is used with a plus the stressed pronouns me, te, lui, lei, noi, voi, loro. Stressed pronouns are more emphatic than indirect pronouns, so we use this construction in a comparison or a contrast: e.g. a me piace il caffè, ma a lui piace il tè (I like coffee, but he likes tea); a me piace il mare, e a te? (I like the sea, how about you?). This type of construction is also used after anche (also) when we agree that we like something: a me piacciono gli spaghetti al pesto. Anche a me! (I like spaghetti with pesto. Me too!). Anche a te piace il vino rosso? (Do you like red wine too?). Using the two constructions together – a me mi piace – is incorrect, but it’s often used by children, who desperately want everybody to know what they like e.g. “a me mi piace il gelato!”

The preposition a is also needed with a person’s name or a noun: e.g. a Stefano piace il tennis (Stefano likes tennis); a mia figlia piace la musica (my daughter likes music).

To finish off, a note on the use of piacere with the passato prossimo (present perfect). The passato prossimo of piacere is built with the present of the verb essere plus the past participle of piacere: piaciuto, piaciuta, piaciuti, piaciute. As we have seen, the action of piacere moves from the object to the person, so the past participle must agree in gender and number with the objects(s), not the person “who likes”: e.g. a Mario è piaciuta la torta di mele (lit: “the apple cake pleased Mario”, meaning “Mario liked the apple cake”); a Giovanna è piaciuto il libro (lit: “the book pleased Giovanna”, meaning “Giovanna liked the book”); mi sono piaciuti i fiori (lit: “the flowers pleased me”, meaning “I liked the flowers”); mi sono piaciute le tue poesie (lit: “your poems pleased me”, meaning “I liked your poems”).

As the title says ‘It’s all about a different point of view’.

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  1. Marie (Giuggio) Hodge:

    I love your blogs. Some-a-day I’ma gonna parla Italiano perfeto!!

    Woul you please write a blog (if it’s worth your time) to explain the difference between using:

    Per favore o Per piacere

    I personally love per piacere because it is a beautiful word.
    Thanks very much.
    You are wonderful!

  2. Christine:

    Grazie Serena! This was very helpful!

  3. Serena:

    Salve Marie!

    Sorry for the delay. “per favore” and “per piacere” are used as a form of courtesy when asking for something, and both have the same meaning of ‘please’. I don’t know which one of the two I use more frequently, I’ll have to check.

    There are also two more ways of saying ‘please’, but they are a bit less common: “per cortesia”, and “per gentilezza”.

  4. claude pickett:

    For all beginning students of Italian: Who made the “rules” regarding where the stress falls on Italian words, and why do they hate us?

    • serena:

      @claude pickett Salve Claude, If you could explain exactly what problems you are having with the ‘stress’ in Italian words I may be able to help you, or even write a blog on the topic.

      A presto, Serena

  5. Claude Pickett:

    Gentilissima Serena,
    Re where the stress falls on italian words is difficult. There is the occasional accent mark and “most” words are stressed on the penultimate syllable. Other than that, there seems to be no rhyme or reason (eg partano, desidero, desiderano, etc.). I guess, like many languages, there’s just no way to learn except through constant usage or memorization. Sigh…….

    Grazie mille

    Lei e italiana?

    • serena:

      @Claude Pickett Salve Claude, sì, sono Italiana, ma sono vissuta in Inghilterra per tredici anni e mio marito è inglese.
      Sorry for the late replay. Yes, Italian accents are a big problem and there are no rules. You need to learn each word ‘a memoria’. ‘Forza, coraggio’, as my Maths teacher use to say.
      Saluti da Serena

  6. Lydia:

    Wow, this is the best explanation of piacere I have seen, thank you for explaining it so well! I have one question. Is it correct to say ‘Ho pensato che se mi conoscano i genitori, gli piacerebbe me’ meaning ‘I thought that if the parents met me, they would like me’? Grazie.

    • Serena:

      @Lydia Salve Lydia, grazie per i complimenti.
      “Piacere” is normally used in the third person singular (e.g. “piace” or “picerebbe”) and plural (“piacciono” or “piacerebbero”). However there are cases in which a different person is used. In fact in your example – ‘I thought that if the parents met me, they would like me’? – the person doing the ‘action of pleasing’ is ‘me’, therefore the correct translation is: “Ho pensato che se i genitori mi conoscessero, gli piacerei” (literally: ‘I would please them/be likable to them). Alternately, and probably more commonly, you could say “Pensavo che se i genitori mi conoscessero, gli sarei simpatico/a”. We use ‘simpatica/o’ to mean likable’, e.g. Giorgio mi è simpatico’ (I like Giorgio).

      Saluti da Serena

  7. Lydia:

    Grazie Serena! I was getting really stuck on that one, but now I understand it.

Leave a comment to Lydia