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Why is mi piace so hard to figure out?

One of the hardest things in Italian, at least for beginners, is trying to figure out how mi piace means "I like." How does it fit? Which word means "I" and which word means "to like"? These are great questions, and we explore some answers below, but if you want to just start speaking in Italian, don't worry about the grammar and the exact translation. Just start rolling it around on your tongue and in your brain. Mi piace.


Mi piace.

"Mi piace" (I like it).

Caption 10, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Mi piace

 Play Caption



Why this advice? Because the answer to these is a little complicated and it can be daunting. It's more important to start speaking right away. If we get a tiny bit of Italian under our belts, we will feel a little more confident about learning a little grammar. In fact, you will need a little grammar as soon as we start using the plural, when we talk about people other than ourselves and items that are more than one. If you are already comfortable with saying mi piace, go ahead and skip this part.


Let's get started:

To say, "I like it," you don't have to think about fitting in the pronoun "it." It's good enough just to say mi piace


Mi... piace.

"Mi... piace."

Caption 2, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Mi piace

 Play Caption


Mi piace.

"Mi piace" (I like it).

Caption 10, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Mi piace

 Play Caption


If you just learn to say mi piace when you like something, you are already speaking Italian! The more you say it, the more it will feel natural. There are going to be things you don't like, too, so let's look at how to form the negative. It's easy.



If you don't like something, then you can say non mi piace (I don't like it). So, in contrast to English, we put the negative part first: non, which basically means "not." The rest of the phrase stays the same. Mi piace, non mi piace (I like it, I don't like it).


Ah, a proposito c'è un pane che proprio non mi piace

Ah, by the way there's a bread that really don't like

che è quello Toscano perché è senza sale.

which is the Tuscan kind because it's without salt.

Captions 23-24, Anna e Marika - Il pane

 Play Caption


Try looking around the space you are in right now. What do you like? What don't you like? Give your answer in Italian. Mi piace, non mi piace. Possible items to think of or point to:

a color

a work of art

a composer

a photo

a house

a car

a band

an actor

a city

If you don't know what something is called in Italian, just point to it.


Here are some examples to get you started. One important thing: Use items in the singular or collective nouns. When we begin referring to multiple items or people, the verb changes. We'll get to that, but not right now!


Some suggestions:

il colore verde (the color green)

l'opera lirica (opera)

Venezia (Venice)

il mare (the sea)

leggere (reading)

il riso (rice)

il cinema (the movies)



What if you want to ask someone else if they like something?

To ask a friend if they like something, then it's ti piace? We're just changing the object pronoun to the second-person singular, ti.

Ask an imaginary friend about these things. Just make sure to keep the thing you are asking about in the singular. Note that Italians usually put a definite article before the noun. 


Il riso ti piace (do you like rice)?

la pizza

la musical classica (classical music)

l'opera lirica (opera)

questa casa (this house)

la birra (beer)

l'acqua frizzante (sparkling water)

viaggiare (traveling)

il calcio (soccer)


We have provided some possible solutions at the bottom of the page.


Daniela gives a video lesson about mi piace, so check it out if you aren't comfortable using it yet. She explains things in Italian, but she gestures and uses a blackboard, and of course, there are captions in both Italian and English, so you are covered. Sometimes this video is a free demo, so check it out even if you are not a subscriber to Yabla! If you don't see it, let us know.


Grammar time — the tough stuff

Now, we'll focus on how mi piace works, from a grammatical point of view.


Truth be told, one of the weird things about Italian, from an English point of view, is that there is no real translation for "I like." The "piace" part of mi piace is actually the third-person singular conjugation of the verb piacere (to please, to be pleasing). Why is that? We'll try to explain it here.


Some essentials:

1) The mi in mi piace is an object pronoun, not a subject pronoun so it doesn't mean "I." In English, "I" is a subject pronoun. 

Mi can be a direct object pronoun meaning "me." In this case it can take a transitive verb such as chiamare (to call): mi chiami (you'll call me)? Ti chiamo (I'll call you). 

But mi can also be an indirect object meaning "to me." In fact, when mi is an indirect object, it is a kind of contraction that means a me (to me). So, another way to say mi piace is a me piace. It means the same thing and puts some emphasis on the person doing the liking, not the thing that is liked.

2) The verb piacere doesn't really mean "to like" but that's the verb Italians use to express liking something. As mentioned above, it means "to please," "to be pleasing," or "to delight."  The subject,  in other words, whatever is "performing the action," is the thing that is liked, the thing that is pleasing (such as pizza or the color pink), not the person who likes it. This is tough to grasp.

3) The English verb "to like" is transitive, but the Italian verb piacere is intransitive. In other words, it can't take a direct object. It takes an indirect object and needs a preposition (usually a [to])! So translating directly, word for word, just won't work. In point number 4, we talk about the verb amare (to love) which is transitive just like the verb "to love," so it is easier to grasp.

4) In English, "to love" is a transitive verb. Unlike piacere — an intransitive verb, the verb amare (to love) is transitive, so this makes amare easier to grasp and to use. So yes, you can say, Amo la pizza (I love pizza) and you would be able to understand the grammar. Io amo la pizza. (Just remember that we can leave off the personal pronoun — in this case io [I] — because the conjugation already indicates the person.) But you can't say piaccio la pizza. It makes no sense. Piaccio needs an indirect object, that is, an object + preposition. I can say piaccio al mio ragazzo (my boyfriend likes me. I am pleasing/attractive to my boyfriend).

5) To sum up, the subject of the sentence is the thing that is doing the pleasing, in this case la pizza (the pizza). Mi piace la pizza. La pizza (the pizza) is the thing that is pleasing to me. It's the subject of the sentence. So when we say mi piace, we are saying something to the effect of "it is pleasing to me." We would never say that in English, but it can help understand how the verb piacere works. Mi piace la pizza. 


Now let's examine a short conversation from a TV series in which the verb piacere is used various times. Perhaps this back-and-forth will help make it feel more natural.


The show in question is Un medico in famiglia. Lele (a guy) is a doctor and a widower with three kids. Some people are trying to get him to start dating and so he finally does go out with a woman named Irene. After his date, he discusses things with his sister-in-law, Alice. She is trying to put herself in his shoes...


E invece adesso ci pensi (but now you are thinking about it):
Mi piace? Me ne sto innamorando (do I like her? Am I falling in love)?
Guarda che capita anche a me. (look, it happens to me, too).
Ma Irene almeno ti piace (but do you at least like her/is she at least pleasing to you)?


Più o meno (more or less)


E tu a lei piaci (and does she like you/are you pleasing to her)?


Credo di sì (I think so).

Here, you can listen and watch. Just click on "Play Caption."


E invece adesso ci pensi.

But now you are thinking about it.

Mi piace? Me ne sto innamorando?

Do I like her? Am I falling in love?

Captions 27-28, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 - EP5 Lele, ti presento Irene

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Guarda che capita anche a me.

Look, it happens to me, too.

-Ma Irene almeno ti piace?

-But do you like Irene?

-Più o meno.

-More or less.

Captions 29-31, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 - EP5 Lele, ti presento Irene

 Play Caption


Here, Alice is asking Lele if he thinks he is pleasing to Irene, in other words, if Lele thinks Irene likes him.


E tu a lei piaci?

And does she like you?

Credo di sì.

I think so.

Captions 34-35, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 - EP5 Lele, ti presento Irene

 Play Caption


Possible questions and answers to our list of examples:

Note: As you will see, the word order doesn't matter. You can begin with the item (the subject) or the indirect object and verb: mi piace/non mi piace/ti piace.


il riso (rice) - Il riso ti piace (do you like rice)? Mi piace! Mi piace il riso. Il riso mi piace. Il riso non mi piace. Non mi piace il riso.

la pizza - Ti piace la pizza? La pizza ti piace? Mi piace la pizza. Non mi piace la pizza. 

la musica classica (classical music) -  Ti piace la musica classica? Non mi piace la musica classica.

l'opera lirica (opera) - L'opera lirica ti piace o no? Mi piace l'opera lirica.

questa casa (this house) - Questa casa non mi piace. Ti piace questa casa?

la birra (beer) - Ti piace la birra? Mi piace la birra.

l'acqua frizzante (sparkling water) - L'acqua frizzante ti piace o non ti piace? Non mi piace l'acqua frizzante. 

viaggiare (traveling) - Ti piace viaggiare? Sì, mi piace viaggiare. Mi piace molto. 

il calcio (soccer) - Non mi piace il calcio. 


In the next lesson in this series, we will build on these questions and answers and look at multiple items to like or not.


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