'Mi piace' is Italian, and generally one of the first expressions the Italian language student learns. The usual translation of 'mi piace' is 'I like'; the guidebooks are full of such handy expressions as 'Mi piace il caffé', 'Mi piace la musica italiana', etc. However, this translation is not entirely accurate, for reasons that will soon become clear.

'Piace' comes from the verb 'piacere'. The translation of this verb is 'to please' (hence in formal situations, 'piacere' is used as a greeting: roughly, 'pleased to meet you').

The 'mi' at the beginning of the expression does not mean 'I'. It indicates that the verb to follow is being used reflexively, and that the subject of that reflection is the speaker.

So, to take an example:

Mi piace il caffé
Usual translation: I like coffee.
Literal translation: Super-caffeinated shots of the most powerful espresso in the world pleases me.

The important point is that while in English, liking something is expressed as an action performed by the speaker (I like Dem Bones), in Italian this is reversed (Dem Bones pleases me). Within the English language, this just makes you sound pretty self-centred...

Obviously, during day-to-day usage, this variation makes little or no difference. Still, I find it an interesting and subtle shift.

One last thing to remember: The slightly more advanced student of Italian, who has yet to realise the subtleties of 'mi piace', is inclined to say 'mi piaco' (using the normal present tense first person conjugation). This, of course, means 'I please myself'.


Note: The original translation, given to me by an Italian native speaker, translated 'piacere' as 'to pleasure'. Obviously, this gave the write-up much more room for amusing pipe-links, but I've chosen to swap giggles for accuracy. Shame. I still find it an interesting difference between the English and Italian languages though.

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