I have been chatting with students of Italian for quite a while now and I have noticed some recurring mistakes.
Moreover, I have noticed that many of my students struggle with the same grammar topics and most of them are weak in the same areas, so I have decided to write a series of posts about Italian grammar.
In particular, I have decided to focus on those specific grammar topics that I see most students struggle with. I know that there are at least a thousand similar posts out there but I think one more post is just a way to read about a specific grammar topic one more time and maybe finally have it clearer in your mind.
I have decided to begin my series with a post about how to use the verb piacere in Italian. It is one of the first things you learn when you begin studying Italian and this gives the false idea that it is an easy topic when it is not. Personally, I believe that it is one of the most difficult elements in the Italian language.
For English speakers, in particular, it is especially hard because it works exactly the opposite than in English. The Italian verb piacere means ‘to like’ but it doesn’t work in the same way. In English, the verb ‘to like’ agrees with the subject, which is the person that likes something. In Italian, instead, the verb agrees with the object, which is the thing (or person) that someone likes.
But let’s dive deeper and see how to use piacere in Italian
The verb piacere is intransitive and can have an impersonal or personal form.
This is the most commonly used form of piacere, which is used to express the fact that someone likes something. What makes is funny, though, is that in Italian we don’t say that someone likes something but that something is pleasing to someone. Therefore, the object of liking is the subject of the phrase. It can be placed at the beginning or at the end of the sentence and the verb agrees with it:
A Maria piacciono i fiori = Maria likes flowers
I fiori piacciono a Maria = Maria likes flowers
The Italian verb piacere means ‘to like’, but it is formed in a different way than in English: what in English is the subject in Italian is the indirect object, while the object of our liking is the subject of the phrase and agrees with the verb.
John likes flowers = I fiori piacciono a John
If the subject is singular, the verb is singular, if it is plural, the verb is plural.
A Francesca piace il caffè = Francesca likes coffee
-> coffee is singular, so the verb is singular
Alla maestra piacciono gli studenti = The teacher likes her students
-> studenti is plural, so the verb is plural
Unlike in English, the thing that one likes is always preceded by the definite article.
A Carla piace LA cucina giapponese = Carla likes Japanese food
Mi piace IL tennis = I like tennis
When the subject is not a noun but an action expressed by an infinite verb or by an expression, piacere is in the third person singular:
A mio padre piace sciare = My father likes skiing
-> sciare is the subject, so the verb is singular
A papà piace che tu studi all’università = Dad likes that you study at the university
-> che tu studi all’università is the subject, so the verb is singular
A me piace guidare – A me piacciono le auto sportive
A te piace leggere libri – A te piacciono le librerie
A lui piace fare sport – A lui piacciono le palestre
A lei piace cucinare i dolci – A lei piacciono i libri di cucina
A noi piace andare al mare – A noi piacciono le spiagge bianche
A voi piace stare a casa – A voi piacciono le cene in famiglia
A loro piace la Tv – A loro piacciono i programmi televisivi
When the indirect object is a pronoun, it can be tonic (a me, a te, etc.) or atonic (mi, ti, etc):
A me piace il calcio / Mi piace il calcio = I like soccer
A lui piacciono le canzoni americane / Gli piacciono le canzoni americane = He likes American songs
Here is the full conjugation:
A me piace/piacciono – Mi piace/piacciono
A te piace/piacciono – Ti piace/piacciono
A lui piace/piacciono – Gli piace/piacciono
A lei piace/piacciono – Le piace/piacciono
A noi piace/piacciono – Ci piace/piacciono
A voi piace/piacciono – Vi piace/piacciono
A loro piace/piacciono- Gli piace/piacciono
To make a negative phrase, you only need to add NON before the pronoun, if you use an atonic pronoun (mi, ti, etc.), or before the verb, if you use a tonic pronoun (a me, a te, etc.).
Non mi piace il dolce = I don’t like sweets
A Barbara non piace leggere libri di filosofia = Barbara doesn’t like reading philosophy books
In compound verbs, piacere always has the auxiliary essere. The past participle piaciuto agrees in gender and number with the subject:
Ti è piaciuto quel libro? Ti sono piaciuti quei libri? = Did you like that book? / those books?
Mi è piaciuta la partita / Mi sono piaciute le partite = I liked the game / the games
This form is used to express the fact that someone is pleasing for somebody else. The subject is the person that is pleasing: io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, loro, etc. The verb agrees with the subject and it is fully conjugated and the indirect object is the person that likes: a me, a Mario, a qualcuno, a tutti etc.
Io piaccio a Carla
Tu piaci a tutti
Lui piace a mia sorella
Lei piace a Massimo
Noi piacciamo alla gente
Voi piacete a mia nonna
Loro piacciono alla maestra
Piacere can also be reflexive (piacersi). Here it is:
io mi piaccio = I like myself
tu ti piaci = you like yourself
lui/lei si piace = he likes himself/she likes herself
noi ci piacciamo = we like ourselves
voi vi piacete = you like yourselves
loro si piacciono = they like themselves
In Italian, many other verbs work like piacere. Some of those verbs are occorrere, bastare, mancare, servire, interessare, sembrare, restare, rimanere, dispiacere.
occorrere: to need, to require
Mi occorrono due minuti per finire il lavoro = I need two minutes to finish my work
bastare: to suffice, to be enough
Vi basta poco per vivere = You don’t need much to live
mancare: to miss
Le manchi tanto = she misses you a lot
servire: to need
Gli servono due pomodori = he needs two tomatoes
interessare: to be interested
Ti interessa la storia = you are interested in history
sembrare: to seem
Ci sembra molto bello = it seems really beautiful to us
restare/rimanere: to be left, to remain
Mi restano/rimangono solo dieci euro = I only have ten euros back
dispiacere: to be sorry
Mi dispiace di non essere arrivata prima = I am sorry I didn’t arrive earlier
I hope this post was useful, please leave a comment or send me an email if you have questions!
As I always do with posts about the Italian language, I have created a downloadable pdf file for you to keep for future reference. You will find it in Your Italian Toolbox, the private page on my site where I upload all language learning materials, under the section Grammar. If can access the page by simply subscribing to my newsletter.
If you are interested in working on the Italian grammar and want to focus on some specific topics, I suggest you check Ti aiuto io, my online Italian language tutoring service.
If you purchase Ti aiuto io, I will work as your private tutor, giving you tasks and homework and spending time over Skype with you to clarify and work together on each topic. If you want to give it a try, you can request a 30-minute free chat, so that we can meet each other and see if you like the service.