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Chatting with an English couple the other day about the strange convolutions of the Italian language, the conversation moved onto the famous topic of piacere (to please). As a visitor to Italia you can be sure that you will be asked frequently ‘ti piace questo, ti piace quello?’ (do you like this, do you like that?) and so on. So, be prepared!
The problem, of course, is conceptual. In English the idea of ‘I like’ is so ingrained that it’s difficult to turn things around and get used to the idea the it’s not me that does the liking, but the object, or idea that pleases me … che mi piace.
And even when we’ve got the hang of basic phrases such as mi piace l’Italia (Italy pleases me – I like Italy) there are all those other inconvenient complications: plurals, conditionals, present perfects … mamma mia, aiuto! How on earth does one say, for example “I would have liked to have bought those shoes, but they were a bit too tight”? Read on, and all will be revealed …
Let’s begin with the plural. Remember: it’s not you that does the liking, it’s the thing that pleases you, therefore if there is more than one thing that pleases you it becomes ‘they please me’ = mi piacciono. For example: mi piacciono i gatti (cats please me – I like cats), ma non mi piacciono i cani (but dogs don’t please me – but I don’t like dogs). Embrace the concept of ‘mi piace’ = it pleases me, and try to bypass the mental translation process, i.e. let go of the concept of ‘I like’. This is a very important stage in beginning to think in a second language.
Now let’s try the conditional: Remember, it’s the thing that pleases you, therefore when we use the conditional form we need to apply it to the thing, such as ‘a cup of coffee’ for example: Mi piacerebbe un buon caffè = a good cup of coffee would please me. And in the plural mi piacerebbero delle scarpe nuove = some new shoes would please me. N.B. I’m deliberately not translating these phrases as ‘I like’, let’s try and leave it out, it just gets in the way.
Now let’s talk about things that pleased us using the present perfect: ti è piaciuto il gelato? = did the ice cream please you? Plural: ti sono piaciute le lasagne? = did the lasagne please you?
If we want to talk about what would have pleased us we use the past conditional: mi sarebbe piaciuto andare a Piacenza = going to Piacenza would have pleased me, mi sarebbe piaciuto comprare quelle scarpe ma erano un po’ troppo strette – it would have pleased me to buy those shoes but they were a bit too tight. Plural: mi sarebbero piaciute quelle scarpe ma erano troppo strette = those shoes would have pleased me but they were too tight.
If you have any questions leave a comment below.