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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Piacere’

It's a pleasure to get this word right.

Italian word of the day: 'Piacere'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

How many beginners’ Italian classes are devoted to piacere?

Click here to hear piacere pronounced:

It’s not just that knowing how to say you ‘like’ something is crucial in any language. It’s also because English speakers are sometimes tripped up by the fact that in Italian, you don’t like thingsthey please you.

Once you get ‘to like’ out of your head and start to think of piacere as ‘to please’ or ‘to be pleasing’, it’s actually pretty easy to use.

It’s an intransitive verb (i.e., it doesn’t have a direct object), which means two things: one, it needs an either an indirect object pronoun (mi, ti – ‘to me’, ‘to you’, etc) or the preposition a followed by the person you’re specifying (a Pino – ‘to Pino’).

And two, it doesn’t agree with the person you’re talking about, but with the thing(s) – that’s why you might see the plural form used even when there’s only one person involved.

It may be a bit tricky to get your head round at first, but the upside is that most of the time you’ll only need to remember two conjugations of piacere in whatever tense you’re using: in the present, piace, ‘something pleases’, and piacciono, ‘some things please’.

Il gelato piace a tutti.
Everybody likes gelato.

Le vacanze mi piacciono fatte in compagnia.
I like going on holiday with other people.

Here’s how it looks in the present perfect (remember to use essere not avere, like with all intransitive verbs)…

Il cantante è piaciuto al pubblico.
The audience liked the singer.

Quali sono i film che vi sono piaciuti di più?
What films did you all like the most?

… and the present conditional.

Mi piacerebbe partire per una lunga vacanza.
I would like to set off on a long holiday.

Gli gnocchi sono buoni, ti piacerebbero.
The gnocchi are good, you’d like them. 

Got it? Now let’s move on to the other meanings of piacere that they don’t tell you about in your first Italian class.

Aside from a verb, it’s also a noun, spelled exactly the same way. It means, essentially, ‘pleasure’.

Ho ascoltato il suo discorso con vivo piacere.
I listened to her speech with great pleasure.

Sono i semplici piaceri della vita che ci portano davvero felicità.
It’s the simple pleasures in life that really make us happy.

You know how we say ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you’ in English? You can say, simply, “piacere!” in Italian to mean the same thing.

– Ti presento mio fidanzato, Antonio.
– Piacere! 

– Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, Antonio.
– Pleased to meet you!

But piacere can also mean something more like ‘courtesy’ or ‘favour’. 

Mi faresti un piacere?
Would you do me a favour?

You can say make a polite request by adding per piacere: just like per favore, it means ‘please’. You’re essentially asking someone to do something ‘as a favour’ to you.

Per piacere, vuoi dirmi che ora è?
Could you please tell me what time it is?

Even more formally, you can ask someone to ‘do you the kindness’ or ‘be so kind as to’ – “mi faccia il piacere?”

Mi faccia il piacere di aspettare qui.
Please be so kind as to wait here.

Though sometimes when Italians are this polite, they’re just being sarcastic.

Mi faccia il piacere di tacere!
Would you please shut up!

In fact, just saying “ma mi faccia il piacere!” or “fammi il piacere!” in an exasperated tone is enough to make clear that you’re fed up – a bit like exclaiming ‘Do me a favour!’

There’s one more useful phrase that features piacere, this time as a verb: mi piacerebbe, ‘I wish’, with the implication that something’s not likely or possible. 

Even better is ti piacerebbe, ‘you wish’ – or ‘in your dreams’.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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