More info on the verb Piacere

It takes a while-- in my case a few years-- but eventually you get the hang of using the verb Piacere ("to like") correctly.
Here is a summary for those of you who are still coming to grips with this common, but quite irregular, verb.

The best thing for you to do when learning this verb is to ignore the commonly used "translation" of it. Instead of "To Like", start to think of it as "To be pleasing".
The reason for this will become apparent soon. "Liking" something, or someone, is one of those things that just doesn't translate directly from English to Italian.

The first thing that you'll notice about the (present tense) conjugations used with Piacere, is that there are really only two of them!
They are either piace or piacciono .
Now while that should make it easier to conjugate than a normal verb, you also have to memorize seven indirect object pronouns to go along with them. GROAN!!
Here is a quick review of those, and then I'll carry on with the original topic:

  • mi = "to me" (or, sometimes, "for me"; this is common to all of the cases)
  • ti = "to you" (singular)
  • gli = "to him"
  • le = "to her"
  • ci = "to us"
  • vi = "to (all of) you" (plural)
  • gli = "to them" (NOTE: normally used only when speaking)

Notice that I've included the word "to" (or sometimes "for") in front of each pronoun; that is deliberate. We must use an indirect object pronoun with this verb.
A direct object pronoun does not use "to", and that is why the masculine indirect "GLI" (to him) is used, instead of the direct form "LO" (him).
Likewise, feminine direct is "LA" (her) but the indirect is "LE" (to her).

Clear as mud?
We'll continue on, anyway.

Much like you will have possibly encountered in the unit on "Clitics", the word order of sentences involving the verb "Piacere" gets all twisted up.
When you see the English sentence, "I like this book", what you need to do is to twist it up in your mind, and instead get it ready for translation by thinking: "To me it is pleasing, this book".

The best example of the proper way to translate comes when using "to him" or "to her" because, for whatever reason, Italians decided that "mi", "ti", "ci", and "vi" are the same for both direct and indirect usage.
The logic (or lack of, more like) here makes most English speakers crazy, but let's soldier on and use a new sentence for our example:

"He likes this book.", which we will then begin translating from, "To him it is pleasing, this book."
So the correct translation is: Gli piace questo libro.

So first of all, the English direct subject ("he") becomes indirect ("to him").
That is important, because you must first pick the correct Italian pronoun to use, which is "gli" (and not "lo").
"it is pleasing" becomes "piace"; this would be the normal way that you would conjugate any 3rd-person (lui or lei) singular verb.
Imagine if the verb was "leggere"; "he or she (or "it") reads", would simply be, "legge" .

So "piace" is always used when the object that is pleasing (being "liked") is singular.
It doesn't matter if the number of people liking it changes, from singular to plural.
I, alone, can like the single book, or we all can like the single book. As long as it is a single book-- or any single item or an individual person-- then you use "piace" plus the indirect object pronoun to say if it is you, us, or them who like it.

What happens if the object becomes plural? That is where "piacciono" comes into play. It is always used when the objects being liked are plural.
Again, it doesn't matter if the number of people, liking the multiple objects, changes; I alone can like trains, and you can like trains, and they can like trains.
"Trains" are plural, so you must use "piacciono" plus the indirect object pronoun in order to tell if it is you, us, or them, who like it.

Getting back to "it is pleasing"; for plural we would change "it" (singular) to "they are pleasing". And "piacciono" certainly looks like the normal conjugation of a verb with "loro", doesn't it?

So then: "She likes sandwiches." Do a mind twist: "To her, they are pleasing, sandwiches."
Can you translate that? (panini are sandwiches)
You should have come up with: "Le piaccono i panini."

Notice that things do not change a great deal when "all of you" like sandwiches, only the first pronoun:
"Vi piacciono i panini."

Two final points

Instead of using an indirect pronoun, if they still confuse you too much, you can use the simple form of "to", which is "a", as an indirect form. "to her" = "le", but it also equals "a lei". Simliarly, "to him" = "gli", but it also equals "a lui".
So a completely valid translation for "She likes the book" is:
"A lei piace il libro."
This is a useful thing to know when you are not assigning a pronoun to the subject in the sentence. For instance:
"The woman likes trains."
If you want to be impersonal, you could say "she" likes trains, but more accurately:
Alla donna piacciono i treni. "To the woman, they are pleasing, trains."

Confused as to why "to him" is "gli" and "to them" is also still "gli"?
When you are talking to someone, you have context and the person listening should realize that you mean them instead of him.
When you are writing a sentence, however, the distinction can be lost.
(edited; thanks to DuoFaber!) That is why you may see this, instead of "Gli piace il libro":
"Il libro piace loro." (The book is pleasing to them.)
The word "loro" is always placed after piace or piacciono.
Gli would always come before the verb.
So, for the plural case, we can have:
Le scarpe piacciono loro . (The shoes are pleasing to them.)

For some reason, though, using "loro" in this manner doesn't get used often in conversations, apparently, but you can opt to use "A loro" at the start of a sentence in a conversation:
A loro piace il libro.

I hope that this is useful for some of you!

August 11, 2016


[deactivated user]

    This is exactly the same concept in Spanish as it is in Italian. While the words used are different, the literal translations are the same. It's the same way how in English we say "I like blah blah" but in other languages it's "blah blah pleases me."

    Me gustan los gatos = Mi piacciono i gatti = Cats please me = I like cats. There are several other important concepts of this nature in latin languages that you only need to wrap your head around once and you can use it on several other latin languages. You've pointed out a very fine example of one such concept.

    August 12, 2016

    In a way the Spanish & Italian are more honest descriptions. If you contemplate for a moment what's actually happening when you like something, you realize that if you're referring to something you actually like, you aren't doing anything.

    English turns this into an active verb, but if you're actively doing something in order to like something, you're not doing it right.

    August 12, 2016

    Good lesson.. and I am finally getting it... There is one more case that comes up in the Italian tree though... Piaque?? I think the sentence is something like.. "Questa canale piaque a mia nonna" Translates into My grandmother likes this chanel. There might be a couple of other instances where the think LIKED comes before the person doing the LIKING... I am not quite 100% on how those work.

    THanks again Mabby

    August 11, 2016

    Yes-- piacque really threw me for a loop when I first saw it, too.
    I figured that sticking to the present tense was the best idea here, in order not to add even more confusion. :-D

    If anyone is interested in the simple (English) past tense (Italian: Passato Prossimo), you always use the auxillary verb essere with Piacere, and the verb form becomes "Piaciuto (for the masculine case-- see the note after the example).

    • Mi è piaciuto il film. (To me it was pleasing, the movie; I "liked" the movie.)

    Because of the mandatory use of essere as the "helping" verb, though, you have to be mindful of the gender and quantity of whatever is being liked.
    Yes, still more memorization about exceptions!
    You use "è piaciuto/ piaciuta" with singular objects and "sono piaciuti/ piaciute" with plural objects, depending on the gender of the object.

    • Ci è piaciuta la birra. (We "liked" the beer.)
    • Ti sono piaciute le farfalle. (You "liked" the butterflies.)
    • Le è piaciuto il ristorante. (She "liked" the restaurant.)
    • Vi sono piaciuti i disegni. (You (all) "liked" the designs.)

    Notice that the last letter of "piaciut--" matches the gender and quantity of the noun (and the article, if there is one) following it; piaciuta with feminine singular birra, piaciute with feminine plural farfalle, and so on.

    August 12, 2016

    Be careful, the verb should follow the object being liked, too :)

    "Mi è piaciuto il film", "Ci è piaciuta la birra", "Ti sono piaciute le farfalle", "Vi sono piaciuti i disegni"... ("Le è piaciuto il ristorante" is correct)

    August 12, 2016

    You got to me too quickly! I realized my error after I hit save. :-D

    August 12, 2016

    P.S. I just noticed that you added some more information and two final points! I only have one small correction: "piace loro" sounds very weird at the beginning of a sentence, in those cases the word order changes and it becomes: "il libro piace loro", "le scarpe piacciono loro", etc.. but you're right, people don't really talk like that anymore, and "a loro" sounds a lot more natural. Also, "a loro" can be used at the beginning of a sentence, too, so that can be convenient :)

    August 12, 2016

    That makes a lot of sense to me.
    I've made some edits.

    August 12, 2016

    Oops, sorry! But good job on realizing it on your own :)

    August 12, 2016

    Oh, you mean "piacque", the passato remoto. (= "he/she liked (a long time ago)")

    Anyway, piacere can also be a noun and it means pleasure, so MABBY's explanation really makes sense ;)

    August 11, 2016

    Just for the sake of precision... From your post it seems like the verb "piacere" is some kind of impersonal verb that is only used in the third person. The verb piacere has a full conjugation, which is, for the present:

    • io piaccio
    • tu piaci
    • lui/lei piace
    • noi piacciamo
    • voi piacete
    • loro piacciono

    The third person is anyway more frequent, as it's much more common to say that somebody likes something (and that "something" in the reverse construction of the verb piacere will be almost always a third person) rather than saying that somebody likes somebody else.


    • Sono sicuro che le piaci. ("I'm sure she likes you")
    • Piacciamo ai bambini. ("Kids like us")
    • Mi piaci ("I like you")
    • Con questo vestito piaccio a tutti. ("With this dress on, everybody likes me")
    August 12, 2016

    Nice! Thank you for that!

    August 12, 2016

    I like the sun, but the sun doesn’t like me. Mi piace il sole ma al sole non piaccio.

    March 31, 2019


    August 13, 2016

    You have done such a good job explaining this.Could you please explain the imperfetto? I am slowly starting to understand piace but struggling to see the difference and when i use passato prossimo versus imperfetto

    June 12, 2017

    Grazie. So...”A Giorgio e a Beatrice piacciono i libri di fantascienza”?

    February 12, 2018

    Thank you so much for the wonderful explanation. Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages also convey the idea of "X likes Y" in a very similar way as Italian does using the verb piacere.

    April 2, 2018

    Fantastic explanation, thank you! I understand everything you have said, but what happens when there are 2 pronouns instead of just one? eg

    They don’t like him: loro non lo piace. (I am not sure the ‘lo’ should be there)

    He doesn't like them: gli non (li) piaciono

    The first pronoun is an indirect object pronoun of course, and the second would be a direct object pronoun, but I am not sure it is used at all.

    To test it I would omit the DOP and see if the phrases still make sense:

    Loro non piace.

    Gli non piaciono.

    Are these correct?

    I realise your post is a couple of years old, but if you see this query I would be grateful for any advice.

    August 21, 2018

    The correct translation is:

    They don't like him - A loro lui non piace

    He doesn't like them - Loro non gli piacciono (or A lui loro non piacciono)

    The verb piacere has a particular construction. What gives pleasure, in fact, is not the object of the sentence but the subject, and the person who experiences pleasure is expressed by an indirect complement.

    • someone (indirect complement) likes something (subject)

    • a qualcuno (indirect complement) piace qualcosa (subject)

    • Mi piace la pasta (or A me piace la pasta)

    • A te piace la pizza (or Ti piace la pizza)

    Warning: if the subject is plural, the verb is plural too.

    • Mi piacciono gli spaghetti

    • Ti piacciono i film di avventura?

    • A Maria piacciono i libri

    The subject of the verb piacere can be a verb in the infinity form or a clause, in both cases “piacere” is used in the third singular person.

    • Mi piace mangiare ("mangiare" is the subject)

    • Ti piace che lui suoni il pianoforte dopo cena ("che lui suoni il pianoforte dopo cena" is the subject)

    August 26, 2018
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