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I currently have a limited understanding of Italian grammar (I plan to take Italian when I go to college but as of right now I'm entirely self-taught [well, in a Duolingo-guided sort of way]) so I apologize in advance if this seems like an overly simple thing to ask.

The word-order with "piace" is already sort of unfamiliar to me. For the most part, I can figure out elementary uses of the word, but I don't know how to use it in a question sentence.

For instance, how would you ask something like, "How many pieces of cake does your turtle like to eat?" I suppose this is the same thing as asking, "How many pieces of cake does your turtle like eating?" (Obscure, but within my vocabulary, I think.)

Thanks for your time and patience!

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There's no direct translation of I like cookies that doesn't change the meaning. One could say

gradisco i biscotti

but that's more similar to I appreciate cookies and sounds more formal than mi piacciono i biscotti. So it would be rather inappropriate to dub this way the Cookie Monster saying I like cookies.

The correct translation would indeed be mi piacciono i biscotti. Your question about the turtle should become

quanti pezzettini di torta piace mangiare alla tua tartaruga?

This adds another complication, because the subject seems plural, but is singular as the verbal form tells us: it's piace, not piacciono, because the subject is mangiare quanti pezzettini di torta, the infinitive mangiare is used as noun and so it requires the singular form for the verb.

Note that the word order in mangiare quanti pezzettini di torta is wrong, I used it just for clarity: the interrogative adjective quanti should come as soon as possible, leading to the correct order in the quoted question. In the case of a plain sentence, you'd say

alla mia tartaruga piace mangiare pezzettini di torta

again with a peculiar word order, the same as in mi piacciono i biscotti. Something like

i biscotti piacciono ad AsianSquirrel

is not ungrammatical, but not very common either, unless the sentence is in coordination with others: a complete analysis would be too long. To the contrary, something like

i biscotti piacciono molto ad AsianSquirrel

doesn't sound stranger than

ad AsianSquirrel piacciono molto i biscotti

or

ad AsianSquirrel i biscotti piacciono molto

because of the adverb.

The three forms have slight different emphasis on the various parts, but basically convey the same idea. The first form puts emphasis on the cookies, the second on the person who likes them, the third on the fact that AsianSquirrel likes cookies very much.

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    I love this super-detailed answer. Thanks, @egreg! – ksoo May 1 '15 at 12:36
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In the sentence you are referring to How many pieces of cake does your turtle like to eat if you want to use the verb piacere you could say:

Quante fette di torta le (the turtle) piace mangiare?

On how to use the verb piacere in a sentence you can refer here and here:

  • Il verbo piacere ha una costruzione particolare e spesso rappresenta un ostacolo difficile per gli studenti stranieri. Ciò che piace, infatti, non è l’oggetto della frase ma il soggetto, e la persona che prova “il piacere” è espressa sotto forma di complemento indiretto.

(The verb piacere has a particular construction and is often a difficult obstacle for foreign students. What you like, in fact, is not the object of the sentence but the subject, and the person who feels the "liking " is expressed in the form of indirect object.)

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