Italian Lessons


To Mind Or Not To Mind

We learned about saying we’re sorry using the verb dispiacere in Learning to Say You're Sorry. But that’s only one of its common uses. If we look closely at dispiacere we can detect two parts: the root piacere (to please) and the prefix dis, indicating negation or the opposite (very much like “dis-” in English). In a sense, dispiacere (to displease) is the opposite of piacere (to please, to be pleasing), so when I say “I’m sorry,” I’m saying that something displeases me:


Mi dispiace ma il tiramisù è terminato.

I'm sorry but we've run out of tiramisù.

Caption 17, Passeggiando per Roma - per Roma

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Normally, dispiacere isn’t used as the opposite of piacere. See the lesson I like it - Mi piace where liking and not liking are discussed. In order to say I don’t like something, I say non mi piace, but if I say mi dispiace, it means “I’m sorry,” at least most of the time. Oddly enough, by negating dispiacere (non mi dispiace), it becomes a sort of via di mezzo (middle way) between liking something and not liking it. It’s as if to say non male (not bad) without the exclamation point.* Non mi dispiace can be the equivalent of “I like it enough” or “I don’t mind it.” In the end, it depends on the inflection and facial expression, and on the context. Tutto è relativo (it’s all relative)! Sometimes it serves to temper or soften a statement that might hurt someone’s feelings, as in the example at the end of this lesson.

*For more on saying “not bad” with an exclamation point, see the lesson Elegant and Not So Elegant Turns of Phrase.


Dispiacere is also used when asking someone if they mind something. Usually a positive answer is expected, especially when using the conditional as in the following example. As in English, the answer may or may not answer the actual question:

Ti dispiacerebbe aprire la porta? -Certo.
Would you mind opening the door? [Would it displease you to open the door?] -Sure.

In the example below, the answer is negative in meaning, but said in a positive statement.


Senta, Le dispiace se diamo un'occhiata in giro? -Eh, mi dispiace sì!

Listen, do you mind if we have a look around? -Eh, yes I do mind!

Captions 28-29, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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In a nutshell:

When dispiacere has to do with minding, the pronoun will generally represent the person being addressed, in the second person:

Ti dispiace? (Do you mind?)
Le dispiace? (Do you mind? [formal])
Vi dispiace? (Do you mind? [plural])

When dispiacere has to do with liking something somewhat, the person doing the liking will be indicated by the pronoun:

Non mi dispiace (I like it pretty much)
Non gli dispiace (He likes it OK)


Putting the pieces together, just for fun:

Mi dispiace dirtelo, ma non mi dispiace la pubblicità della concorrenza. Non ti dispiace se ti dico la verità, vero?
I’m sorry to tell you but I somewhat like the competition’s publicity. You don’t mind if I tell you the truth, do you?
Non mi piace quello che dici ma non mi dispiace se mi dici quello che pensi. Anzi...
I don’t like what you’re saying, but I don’t mind if you tell me what you think. On the contrary...



Check your comprehension:

Make a search of the different conjugations of dispiacere in a Yabla search and choose what you think the closest meaning is in each case. There’s no translation right there, so you won’t get any hints except context, but you can check your results by watching the video.

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