Italian Language Blog

Mi Piace! – Part 1. Posted by on May 7, 2018 in Grammar

In my last couple of articles we’ve been focusing on pronomi personali indiretti (indirect personal pronouns). Today, we’ll put what we’ve learnt into practice with the important verb piacere (to please).

You won’t get far in Italy without the verb piacere: Ti piace l’Italia? (Do you like Italy?) you’ll be asked, and hopefully you’ll reply: Sì, l’Italia mi piace! (Yes, I like Italy). But isn’t it frustrating that one of the most common and important verbs should be so back to front and complicated?

Well, perhaps it’s not as complicated as it seems. Let’s take a look.

The fundamental thing to accept about using piacere with the meaning of ‘to like’ is that from the perspective of an English speaker it really is back to front. In Italian it’s not the person that does the liking, but the thing that pleases the person. Let’s take another look at that common question, but this time with a literal translation: Ti piace l’Italia? (Does Italy please you?) Sì, l’Italia mi piace! (Yes, Italy pleases me!).

So, if you want to get to grips with piacere you’ll need to stop liking things and start being pleased by them!

This will become more apparent once we move beyond the simple mi piace that we learn as beginners and get into the complicated conjugations.
But let’s begin at the beginning by revising the basic use of piacere with the forme atone of the indirect personal pronouns.
N.B. Understanding how indirect personal pronouns work is a prerequisite for the correct use of piacere. So if you’re not clear about this then you’ll need to go over my article: Italian Indirect Personal Pronouns

Piacere Level 1. Present Tense Singular.

mi piace = it pleases me (I like it)
ti piace = it pleases you singular informal (you like it)
gli piace = it pleases him (he likes it)
le piace = it pleases her (she likes it)
ci piace = it pleases us (we like it)
vi piace = it pleases you plural (you like it)
gli piace = it pleases them (they like it)

N.B. to transform the above into questions simply add a question mark or change your tone of voice: gli piace? = does it please him? (does he like it?), and so on.

mi piace sentire dai lettori = it pleases me to hear from the readers (I like hearing from the readers)
ti piace la mia casa? = does my house please you? (do you like my house?)
gli piace guidare = driving pleases him (he likes driving)
le piace andare al mare = going to the sea pleases her (she likes going to the sea)
ci piace molto il vostro regalo = your present really pleases us (we really like your present)
vi piace camminare? = does walking please you? (do you like walking?)
gli piace Pontremoli? = does Pontremoli please them? (do they like Pontremoli?)

Gli piacciono la pace e la tranquillità della Lunigiana. Photo by Serena.

Piacere Level 2. Present Tense Plural.

mi piacciono = they please me (I like them)
ti piacciono = they please you singular informal (you like them)
gli piacciono = they please him (he likes them)
le piacciono = they please her (she likes them)
ci piacciono = they please us (we like them)
vi piacciono = they please you plural (you like them)
gli piacciono = they please them (they like them)

mi piacciono i gatti = cats please me (I like cats)
ti piacciono le scarpe? = do the shoes please you? (you like the shoes?)
gli piacciono le macchine d’epoca = vintage cars please him (he likes vintage cars)
le piacciono i film di Fellini = Fellini’s films please her (she likes Fellini’s films)
ci piacciono i sentieri sperduti = out of the way footpaths please us (we like out of the way footpaths)
vi piacciono questi biscotti? = do these biscuits please you? (do you like these biscuits?)
gli piacciono la pace e la tranquillità della Lunigiana = the peace and quiet of Lunigiana pleases them (they like the peace and quiet of Lunigiana)

Coming up next: Mi Piace! – Part 2. With some tricky conjugations.

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  1. Richard:

    Geoff, Thanks a lot for the great explanation with examples. But it might be good to point out that ‘mi, ti, gli,’ etc. mean to me – a me, ti – a te, gli – a lui, for example: ‘Mi piace la birra; – Beer is pleasing to me, Ti piace il vino – Wine is pleasing to you, etc.

    • Geoff:

      @Richard Ciao Richard, thanks for your comment.

      I wrote in my article:
      “But let’s begin at the beginning by revising the basic use of piacere with the forme atoniche of the indirect personal pronouns.”
      The forme atoniche are mi, ti, gli, le, etc.
      I intend to cover the forme toniche, i.e. a me, a te, etc. in part 2.

      My aim is always to give the clearest and simplest explanation that I can without overwhelming the reader with too much information. And when we start getting into the present perfect, the conditional, the subjunctive and so on there will be a LOT of information to digest!

      Pian pianino, come si dice …


      • Dmitry:

        @Geoff I believe what Richard meant is that if you give examples of pronomi indiretti, you better translate them as indirect “it is pleasing *to* smb” than direct “it pleases smb”

        • Geoff:

          @Dmitry Ciao Dmitry,

          Apart from writing these blogs I also teach English to Italians and Italian to English people. One very important point that I emphasise to my students is that trying to make literal word by word translations between the two languages is a bad habit to get into. In my experience, it is the student who can’t let go of literal translations that finds it hardest to progress.
          There are many aspects of both languages that have to be accepted for what they are, such as English spelling, which from an Italian perspective has zero logic.

          The essential fact about piacere is the underlying ‘concept’ that, as I wrote in my article: “In Italian it’s not the person that does the liking, but the thing that pleases the person.”
          Hence I specifically chose to use the words ‘it pleases …’ as the simplest means of conveying this concept.

          However, I have a couple of questions for you (and Richard if he reads this):
          What, exactly, is the difference between ‘it pleases me’ and ‘it is pleasing to me’. They both express exactly the same concept, so it’s really just a matter of semantics, isn’t it?
          … and furthermore, how would you ‘literally’ translate the following extremely common colloquialism: “a me mi piace”, would you say ‘to me it is pleasing to me’? Obviously not, because it sounds ridiculous!

          A presto, Geoff

          • Dmitry:

            @Geoff Hi Geoff,
            first of all, I agree that one should not try to translate word for word – in normal situations. However, I find it useful to try it as a tool for analysis of grammar.

            I would never suggest to translate “mi piace” other than “I like”, except to illustrate the use of indirect object.

            For the purpose of such illustration, literal translation “it is pleasing to me” with indirect “to me” matches the original closer than “it pleases me”, which uses “to please” as transitive verb and “me” as direct object.

            By the way, my native language is Russian, and the Russian for “mi piace” is “мне нравится”, which is an exact match, with indirect object 🙂

  2. Robert:

    why aren’t your pages printer friendly? It would help so much….thanks.

    • Geoff:

      @Robert I’m afraid I have no control over the printer friendliness of our pages Robert. For that you’d need to contact Transparent Language for whom we work.

      Saluti! 🙂

    • Phil:

      @Robert I agree about the printing. I find I can copy the text and then paste it into a word processing or text processing program to generate a printable version. It is some extra steps but well worth the effort!

  3. John:

    Hi Robert, you can copy and paste into Onenote and it is printer friendly, thanks.

  4. Richard:

    Geoff, you are absolutely right about not overburdening the student with too much info.
    But the fact that you can just as well say ‘ A me piace q/c’ as well as ‘Mi piace q/c’, it seems a good idea to let students know the pronouns mean ‘to me, to you, to her.’By the way, ‘A me mi piace’ is just using the ‘a me’ and the ‘mi’ to be emphatic.

  5. Richard:

    Sig. Geoff, Ha ragione. L’argomento è finito. Ma come diceva la mia vecchia professoressa di latino: Repetitio est mater studiorum.

  6. Jane Bowden:

    Haha, here are two English colloquialisms.
    “I like it, me”.
    “Personally, I like it”.
    Bad grammar but quite common.

    • Geoff:

      @Jane Bowden Ciao Jane, good examples!

      They correspond perfectly to piacere when used with the forme toniche, which I’m going to go over in my next blog.

      Grazie per il tuo commento, a presto, Geoff.

  7. Toby:

    Mi piace molto il blog, e grazie mille, Geoff!

  8. kathy:

    Anche io Geoff, apprezzo il tuo blog!

    • Geoff:

      @kathy Grazie Kathy, ne sono contento. 🙂

  9. Mitch:

    You’re getting a fair bit of stick for this, Geoff. I did as you said and looked at the earlier post first. Having done that, your lesson was clear as day and I got it straight away. Clearly, this doesn’t mean that yours is the only good lesson on Piacere.
    I’m happy to look at the lessons prepared by your lesson’s critics and compare their effectiveness if it helps.

    • Geoff:

      @Mitch Non ti preoccupare Mitch, sono più di dieci anni che faccio ‘sto lavoro, e trent’anni che insegno, perciò ormai mi sono ben abituato ai critici.
      Sono anche molto consapevole che gli stranieri vanno in tilt con il verbo piacere, perché più che altro è un discorso concettuale, qualcosa che va proprio contro la corrente di un certo ‘mindset’. E ho visto un sacco di persone che non riescono mai ad abituarsi a questo concetto perché non superano la brutta abitudine di tradurre letteralmente.
      Il verbo piacere usato per esprimere ‘to like’ non si può tradurre letteralmente, punto e basta!

      Caso mai, non ho capito cosa volevi dire con “I’m happy to look at the lessons prepared by your lesson’s critics and compare their effectiveness if it helps.” ?

      Saluti da Geoff. 🙂

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