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I Would Like … Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Grammar

Very often when learning Italian you’ll find that a simple English phrase can be translated in several ways depending on the context. Here’s a classic example: in English, the expression ‘I would like’ can cover the following situations:

1. I would like to learn Italian
2. I would like a good Italian dictionary please
3. I would like to go to Siena
4. I would like a ticket to Siena please

In Italian, however, the above phrases use two different expressions. Let’s have a look at the translations:

1. I would like to learn Italian
mi piacerebbe imparare l’Italiano

2. I would like a good Italian dictionary please
vorrei un buon vocabolario della lingua italiana per favore

3. I would like to go to Siena
mi piacerebbe visitare Siena

4. I would like a ticket to Siena please
vorrei un biglietto per Siena per favore

Siena 1
I would like a ticket to Siena please = vorrei un biglietto per Siena per favore. Photo: Piazza del Campo, Siena (CC) by Phillip Capper.

As you can see, whereas in English we can use the conditional ‘would like’ in all four sentences, in Italian we differentiate between what we would like by using the verb piacere, and what we would want/need by using the verb volere. N.B. If you still get confused about the correct use of piacere to express the concept ‘to like’, then I suggest that you brush up by reading this useful blog on the topic.

It certainly helps to understand when you need to use piacere and when to use volere if you remember that mi piacerebbe literally means ‘it would please me’, and vorrei means ‘I would want/need/require/desire/wish’. Let’s try and make sense of this by having another look at examples 1. and 2.

1. I would like to learn Italian
mi piacerebbe imparare l’italiano, literally: it would please me to learn Italian

2. I would like a good Italian dictionary
vorrei un buon vocabolario della lingua italiana per favore, literally: I would want/require a good Italian dictionary please

As you can see, vorrei is most commonly used in a formal situation where we want to ask for something politely:

vorrei delle banane per favore = I’d like some bananas please
vorrei un bicchiere d’acqua per favore = I’d like a glass of water please

glass of water
vorrei un bicchiere d’acqua per favore = I’d like a glass of water please. Photo (CC) by ps50mm

and, of course, it changes depending on the person or people doing the wanting/needing:

vorremmo un tavolo per quattro per favore = we’d like a table for four please
vorrebbero una camera per due notti = they’d like a room for two nights

we can also use the imperfect tense of volere to express the same concept:

volevo due etti di Parmigiano per favore = I’d like two hundred grams of Parmesan please, literally: I was wanting two hundred grams …
volevamo due biglietti per Pisa per favore = we’d like two tickets for Pisa please, literally: we were wanting two tickets

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Comments:

  1. Celso:

    Your blog is so enlightening and extremely well-written. You always avoid the preachiness that seems to characterize other language-learning sites. Molto bene!

    • Geoff:

      @Celso grazie Celso per le sue gentili parole 🙂

  2. Maryssa:

    Are there instances when it’s better to use visitare instead of andare? For example, of you said, “mi piacerebbe andare a Siena.” Is this incorrect? Btw, enjoy the blogs very much. I learn a lot from reading them. Grazie mille!

    • Geoff:

      @Maryssa Salve Maryssa, I would say that ‘visitare’and ‘andare a’ are more or less synonymous. However, I think that ‘visitare’ would probably be used by someone who has never been to Siena and would like to go there to explore it, whereas ‘andare a’ gives the idea that you already know Siena, but would like to go there for some reason.
      For example, I’ve never been to Sicilia, so I’d say ‘un giorno mi piacerebbe visitare la Sicilia’, but I’ve been to Lucca many times, so I might say ‘domani mi piacerebbe andare a Lucca a trovare Francesco’.
      I suppose my short phrase ‘I would like to go to Siena’ was a bit out of context. Perhaps I should have written: ‘non sono mai stato a Siena, mi piacerebbe visitarla’ (I’ve never been to Siena, I’d like to go there/visit it).

      I hope that’s not too confusing?

  3. Martie:

    I live in Stellenbosch, South Africa. I am Afrikaans speaking and learn Italian by means of English. Which makes it even a bit more difficult. Our teacher is an Italian lady. I find your blog so useful and always so interesting, and written in such a nice,easy way. I enjoy it and I learn a lot from it. Please keep on!!!

    • Geoff:

      @Martie Thanks for the positive feedback Martie.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  4. Phil:

    Geoff,

    Why did you use “vocabulario” for dictionary rather than “dizionario?” To me, they are a little different but are they more synonymous in Italian?

    Phil

    • Geoff:

      @Phil Salve Phil, dizionario and vocabolario are more or less synonymous in Italian. Serena and I tend to use the word vocabolario because our main source of reference is the renowned Vocabolario Treccani. But if you used dizionario it wouldn’t be incorrect.

      A presto, Geoff

      P.S. Here is the definition for vocabolario from the Vocabolario Treccani. At the end it makes a distinction from dizionario, but it’s pretty technical.

  5. RITA KOSTOPOULOS:

    Moltissime grazie per tutti I blogs molto graditi da me e dai miei studenti adulti della Foundation of the Arts and sciences of Long Beach Island, N.J. Ogni settimana li aspetto con ansia e curiosita’ Tantissimi auguri e una carezza per I vostri gattini. Cordialmente, Rita Sgro’ Kostopoulos

    • Serena:

      @RITA KOSTOPOULOS Salve Rita, grazie tante per i complimenti, fanno sempre molto piacere. Anche i gattini hanno apprezzato la tua carezza, insieme ad un goccio di latte 😉

      Saluti da Serena

  6. Caterina:

    Mi piacerebbe visitare Siena.

  7. JohnM:

    Am I reading too much into the examples having vorrei followed by a thing and mi piacerebbe followed by an action?

    • Geoff:

      @JohnM Salve John, although my examples would seem to suggest that your hypothesis is correct, I’m afraid that there is no fixed rule.
      I was trying to keep things as simple as possible, but in reality it’s perfectly valid to say to your friend ‘andiamo al bar, mi piacerebbe un buon caffè’ = let’s go to the bar, I’d like a good coffee, or ‘un giorno vorrei visitare Ercolano’ = one day I’d like to visit Herculano (as in: it’s my desire/wish to visit Herulano).

      As with most aspects of spoken language, there are many subtle nuances. My blog was mainly aimed at highlighting the obvious two choices for the use of ‘I would like’.

      A presto, Geoff

  8. Franca:

    Mille grazie per la sfida d’imparara e ripassare questa bellissima lingua nostra.

    • Serena:

      @Franca Non c’è di che, Franca.
      Saluti da Serena


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