Piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM) has emerged as a powerful and versatile tool for probing nanoscale phenomena in ferroelectric materials on the nanometer and micrometer scales. In this review, we summarize the fundamentals and recent advances in PFM, and describe the nanoscale electromechanical properties of several important ferroelectric ceramic materials widely used in memory and microelectromechanical systems applications. Probing static and dynamic polarization behavior of individual grains in PZT films and ceramics is discussed. Switching spectroscopy PFM is introduced as a useful tool for studying defects and interfaces in ceramic materials. The results on local switching and domain pinning behavior, as well as nanoscale fatigue and imprint mapping are presented. Probing domain structures and polarization dynamics in polycrystalline relaxors (PMN-PT, PLZT, doped BaTiO3) are briefly outlined. Finally, applications of PFM to dimensionally confined ferroelectrics are demonstrated. The potential of PFM for studying local electromechanical phenomena in polycrystalline ferroelectrics where defects and other inhomogeneities are essential for the interpretation of their macroscopic properties is illustrated.