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French Grammar

How to Use the Pronoun EN and Y in French?

What are the two French adverbial pronouns?

If you’re reading this article, you probably have been browsing the Internet looking to resolve a French grammatical mystery (well not a mystery for long!):

How do we use the French pronouns en and y? What do they replace? In other words, what are these tiny words that seem so important in French?

Don’t worry, it is absolutely normal you’re asking yourself all this and I am here to help you find the answers you need!

French grammar can sometimes (often?) seem pretty tough to grasp but with a bit of help and some assiduous work, you’ll see that it’s actually not that difficult and that, in fact, it’s rather logical and enjoyable to learn! Yes, trust me, it is!

I hope that this is what you will think after having read my article anyway!

In this blog, I will highlight the various uses of two French pronouns, en and y.

You must have seen or heard them many times but they might give you some hard time when it comes to using them yourself in a sentence.

1) What is a pronoun?

Before we get into the heart of the matter, let’s start from the beginning and check your knowledge of French grammar.

What actually is a pronoun?  As the word indicates it, a pronoun replaces the noun.

It helps to avoid repetitions and, therefore, makes your speech a lot smoother.

There are many different types of pronouns in French. We can classify them into two main categories: personal pronouns and impersonal pronouns.

A) Personal pronouns

Why personal? Simply because they refer to a person and, therefore, agree in number and gender with the grammatical person they represent.

In French, you will find five different types of personal pronouns:

→ subject (je, tu, il, elle, on, nous, vous, ils, elles)

→ reflexive (me, te, se, nous, vous, se)

→ stressed (moi, toi, lui, elle, soi, nous, vous, eux, elles) → direct object (me, te, le, la, nous, vous, les)

→ indirect object (me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur)

As interesting as these can be, they are not the topic of this article so I won’t tell you much more about French personal pronouns.

This could always be the subject of another blog if you want me to teach you a bit more about them! Let me know in your comments.

B) Impersonal pronouns

This time around you might wonder why they are called impersonal. Well, like I mentioned it a bit further up, French grammar (and grammar in general) is very logical.

Personal pronouns change depending on the grammatical person they represent. Therefore, impersonal pronouns do not change according to a grammatical person.

Watch out though, this does not mean they never change to agree with the noun they replace.

There are more French impersonal pronouns than personal pronouns.

Well, in fact, there are double more as there are ten different types.

→ subject (ce, il)

→ indefinite (plusieurs, quiconque, tout…)

→ demonstrative (celui, celle, ceux, celles)

→ indefinite demontrative (ce, ceci, cela, ça)

→ possessive (le mien, la mienne, les miens, les miennes, le tien, la tienne, les tiens, les tiennes, le sien, la sienne, les siens, les siennes, le nôtre, la nôtre, les nôtres, le vôtre, la vôtre, les vôtres, le leur, la leur, les leurs)

→ relative (qui, que, quoi, dont, où, lequel…)

→ indefinite relative (ce qui, ce que, ce dont…)

→ negative (ne…jamais, ne…rien, …)

→ interrogative (qui, que, lequel…)

→ adverbial (y, en)

I could tell you many things about all these impersonal pronouns but, in this lesson, we will concentrate on the last category: the adverbial pronouns.

2) Adverbial pronouns

How can two so tiny words be so important than a full blog is written just for them?

Well, that is because, as small as they are, they are very often used in French and if you don’t use them correctly you can either change the sense of a sentence or your sentence may not make sense at all!
So let’s focus and become unbeatable when it comes to en and y!

A) En
En is usually translated by “of it” or “about it”.

A1) A pronoun which replaces a noun introduced by de

The French adverbial pronoun en is used with verbs that take de such as avoir besoin de, avoir

envie de, parler de, s’occuper de, revenir de …

For example:

• Avez-vous besoin de ce livre ? → En avez-vous besoin?Do you need this book? Do you need it?

In this example, what does en replace? Yes, you’re right. Here, en replaces ce livre.

• Parle-lui de ton expérience → Parle-lui-en.Tell him about your experience → Tell him about it.

In this example, what does en replace?
Again, you’ve got it right! Yes, here, en replaces ton expérience.

When you speak about a person, you have to use the tonic or stressed pronouns (moi, toi, lui, elle, soi, nous, vous, eux, elles). Don’t use en in that case.

For example:

• Tu parles de ta voisine? Oui, je parle d’elle.
Are you speaking about your neighbour? Yes, I am (speaking about her).

In this example, ta voisine is a person so you have to use a tonic pronoun.

• Tu parles de ton travail? Oui, j’en parle.
Are you speaking about your work? Yes, I am (speaking about it).
Here, we don’t speak about someone but about something so you have to use the adverbial pronounen.

I hear what you’re saying: “Why do French people make things so difficult for us to learn?!”.
Well, just take it as a little challenge and realistically it’s not a very complicated rule to remember, is it?

En can also replace a place if that place is introduced by a verb + de

For example:

• Je reviens de la bibliothèque → J’en reviens.
I am coming back from the library → I am coming back from it.

As you more than likely have understood it, in this example, en replaces la bibliothèque.

A2) A pronoun which replaces a noun introduced by a partitive article or an indefinite article.

En is used instead of a partitive article + a noun or an indefinite article + a noun.

Let me give you a few examples.

  • –  Je vais faire un gâteau mais je ne suis pas certaine d’avoir tous les ingrédients nécessaires. A-t-on du beurre?
  • –  Non, il n’y en a plus.
  • –  Et du sucre?
  • –  Oui, il en reste.
  • –  Et des oeufs? Il m’en faut trois.
  • –  On en a quatre.
  • –  I will bake a cake but I am not sure we have all the required ingredients. Do we have some butter?
  • –  No, there isn’t any left
  • –  What about sugar?
  • –  Yes, there is some.
  • –  And eggs? I need three.
  • –  We have four.So, what do the various en replace in this little dialogue? Let’s go through it together.

– Non, il n’y en a plus.
Here en replaces le beurre (butter).

– Oui, il en reste.
Here en replaces le sucre (sugar).

– Il m’en faut trois.
Here en replaces les oeufs (eggs).

– On en a quatre.
Again, here en replaces les oeufs (eggs).

This last sentence “On en a quatre” highlights an important rule.
In French, when en replaces the noun after a number, that number as to be put at the end of the sentence.

Have a look at the following example.

J’ai trois oeufs → J’ en ai number noun en replaces “oeufs”

I have three eggs → I have three of them.

trois. number

B) Y
As an English-speaker, you probably got told that y translates to “there” which is true but rather reductive. Indeed, y has a few more uses. I will bring them out.

B1) A pronoun which replaces the name of a place (à + name of the place)
This is probably the case you encoutered the most or, at least, the case you most got told about. When y replaces the name of a place, it is translated by “there”.

Let’s see it in the following text.

– Pars-tu souvent en vacances?
– Oui, je vais souvent à Paris.
– Tu y vas quand?
– J’y vais à Noël car c’est magnifique! Et toi, où pars-tu en vacances? – Moi, je vais parfois à Londres. J’y vais pendant les vacances d’été. – Avec qui y vas-tu?

– J’y vais avec mon conjoint et nos enfants.

  • –  Do you often go on holiday?
  • –  Yes, I often go to Paris.
  • –  When do you go there?
  • –  I go there at Christmas because it’s amazing! What about you, where do you go on holiday?
  • –  Me, I sometimes go to London. I go there during the summer holidays.
  • –  Who do you go there with?
  • –  I go there with my husband and our chilren.
  • As you can see in this text, y is used to answer the question “where” (où). Therefore, this adverbial pronoun replaces “to Paris” and “to London” (à Paris and à Londres).
    However, note that it doesn’t just replace the name of a country.

    It can be used for any type of places.

    For example:

• Tu vas au centre aéré mercredi → Tu y vas mercredi.
You are going to summer camps on Wednesday → You go there on Wednesday.

• Avec qui allez-vous aux Galeries Lafayette? → Nous y allons avec Charlotte.Who do you go to the Galeries Lafayette with? → We are going with Charlotte.

B2) A pronoun which replaces a noun introduced by à

The French adverbial pronoun y is used with verbs that take à such as penser à, s’intéresser à, réfléchir à, croire à, jouer à…
In this case, you can translate it by “it”.

For example:

• Veux-tu jouer à la marelle? → Veux-tu y jouer?
Do you want to play hopscotch? → Do you want to play it?

• S’intéresse t-il au rugby? → S’y intéresse t-il?Is he interested in rugby? → Is he interested in it?

• Elle pense beaucoup à son voyage. → Elle y pense beaucoup.She thinks a lot about her trip. → She thinks about it a lot.

What do you notice in all these examples? I’ll give you a clue: inanimate objects, places, ideas… So? Yes, that’s it!!! Y replaces something but never someone. It replaces inanimate objects, places, ideas but never a person.
You’re getting pretty good at French! I’m impressed!

C) The position of adverbial pronouns in a sentence C1) With simple tenses

When used with simple tenses (le présent, le passé simple, l’imparfait, le futur), both adverbial pronouns, en and y, have to be put in between the subject and the verb.

For example:
– Tu vas chez ta grand-mère ce soir? (Are you going to your nan’s tonight?)- Oui, j’y vais.(Yes, I am)

In “Oui, j’y vais”, j’ is the subject and vais is the conjugated verb. Therefore, you have to write y in between them both.

  • –  As-tu du chocolat? (Have you got some chocolate?)
  • –  Non, je n’en ai pas. (No, I haven’t got any).In “Non, je n’en ai pas”, je is the subject and ai is the conjugated verb. Therefore, you have to writeen in between them both.
    As you will have already noticed, the negative (highlighted in blue) surrounds the pronoun and the verb.C2) With composed tensesWhen used with composed tenses (le passé composé, le plus-que-parfait…), both adverbial pronouns, en and y, have to be put in between the subject and the auxiliary avoir or être.For example:
  • –  As-tu mangé des légumes verts à midi? (Have you eaten some green vegs at lunchtime?)
  • –  Oui, j’en ai mangé. (Yes, I have eaten some).
  • –  Avez-vous réfléchi à votre projet? (Have you thought about your project?)
  • –  Non, nous n’y avons pas réflechi. (No, we have not thought about it).With composed tenses, the first part of the negative (ne) has to be put before the adverbial pronoun and the second part of the negative (pas in this example) has to be after the auxiliary.We’re coming to the end of this blog.
  • Before we check your new knowledge, let me give you some great news!
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D) Your turn!

Let’s check if you have completely understood the whole lesson thanks to the following exercises!

I have created a couple of exercises especially for you so you can practice what you have just learnt as remember “practice makes perfect”!
You will find the correction just underneath the exercises but do not cheat! Only check your answers once you have given it your best shot!

Bonne chance! (Good luck!).

1) Choose the correct answer

  • As-tu pensé à prévenir ta professeur de ton absence?→ Oui, j’y ai pensé.
    → Oui, j’ai pensé à elle.
  • As-tu acheté du pain? → Oui, j’ai en acheté. → Oui, j’en ai acheté.
  • Combien y a-t-il de personnes? → Il y en a cinq.
    → Il en y a cinq.
  • Allez-vous souvent à Marseille? → Non, on n’y va jamais.
    → Non, on ne va y jamais.

2) What do the pronouns en and y replace in the following sentences?

  • Je vais à Nîmes ce soir. J’y vais en train.→ à Nîmes → en train
  • J’aimerais tellement devenir actrice à Hollywood! J’en rêve depuis toujours. → à Hollywood
    → devenir actrice
  • – N’oublie pas de téléphoner à ta soeur! – Oui, j’y penserai. → de téléphoner à ta soeur
    → à ta soeur
  • – Veux-tu une mousse au chocolat en dessert? – Non merci, je n’en veux pas. → une mousse au chocolat
    → en dessertCorrection

2) Choose the correct answer

  • As-tu pensé à prévenir ta professeur de ton absence? → Oui, j’y ai pensé.
    → Oui, j’ai pensé à elle.
  • As-tu acheté du pain? → Oui, j’ai en acheté. → Oui, j’en ai acheté.
  • Combien y a-t-il de personnes? → Il y en a cinq.
    → Il en y a cinq.
  • Allez-vous souvent à Marseille? → Non, on n’y va jamais.
    → Non, on ne va y jamais.

2) What do the pronouns en and y replace in the following sentences?

  • Je vais à Nîmes ce soir. J’y vais en train.→ à Nîmes→ en train
  • J’aimerais tellement devenir actrice à Hollywood! J’en rêve depuis toujours. → à Hollywood
    → devenir actrice
  • – N’oublie pas de téléphoner à ta soeur! – Oui, j’y penserai. → de téléphoner à ta soeur
    → à ta soeur
  • – Veux-tu une mousse au chocolat en dessert? – Non merci, je n’en veux pas. → une mousse au chocolat
    → en dessert

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