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Il verbo piacere

Alright, now you've got pronouns, verbs, and some prepositions! You can introduce yourself and tell where you are from. What's next? Well, to tell the world what you like of course! To do so, you'll use a special verb: 'piacere'.

Today, our journey brings us to Bologna, where you want to try some typical food. You already know everything about 'bolognese', but you want to be sure that what you are going to try matches your taste. Your new Italian friends, to find out your favourite food and enhance your foodie experience, ask you : 'cosa ti piace?' [eng. what do you like?]

Let's take a step back.

The verb 'piacere', in italian is used to express concepts such as:

'to like', 'being pleased' or 'enjoy'. Just as in English, this verb can be followed by both nouns or verbs. The nouns generally refer to objects/items while the verbs refer to activities. Think of these two sentences

Mi piace la pizza [I like pizza] / Mi piace guardare i film [I like to watch movies]

The verb differs from other regular verbs because it is mostly used in its impersonal form. While this technical term might sound frightening, it just indicates that in Italian the object ('what you like') becomes the subject of the sentence. Confused? Let's work this out. Considering the previous sentence: 'mi piace la pizza' / 'I like pizza', we can notice some differences between Italian and English.

What do you like? The English sentence follows a regular structure: I [subject] - like [verb] - pizza [noun/object], and puts the spotlight on the person 'I' (the subject aka 'who does the action'). In the Italian version of this sentence, the situation changes, the pizza [la pizza] becomes the main element of the sentence [the subject] and the person [I] it is recognised as an 'indirect object' because it is considered as 'whom the pizza is liked to'.

Lost in translation When we say that 'mi piace la pizza' is the translation of 'I like pizza' is an oversimplified statement, the truth is that we are adapting two different sentences, a literal translation would sound more like 'Pizza is liked to me'. So now it might make a bit more sense, in theory but does it work? is it difficult? Not really, there is basically just good news: The verb 'piacere' uses, in its impersonal construction, only two forms :

'piace' (3rd person singular)
'piacciono' (3rd person plural)

and the choice will be based on what we are talking about. E.g. mi piace la pizza (s) or mi piacciono le scarpe [shoes] (pl)

again it makes more sense if you consider the English literal translation that would be: 'pizza is liked to me' [is / singular] and 'shoes are liked to me' [are/plural].


So now we've got a clear idea of how the verb and the subject work together but how to indicate the person to the item or activity is liked to? To do so in Italian we use a series of pronouns

So, going back to Bologna, when your friends ask you 'Cosa ti piace?' you can look at them and say: Mi piace la cioccolata, mi piacciono i tortellini, mi piacciono i funghi e le vedure! (Always remember to use the definite article after the verb piacere!)

And now you are set!

In short: To express the idea that you like something in Italian you will need to:

  1. use a pronoun (mi, ti, gli/le, ci, vi, gli) to indicate the 'who'

  2. pick the right verb from : piace (sing) / piacciono (pl)

  3. add the noun or the activity (e.g. la pizza / leggere) to express the 'what'

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