The French pronouns y and en are widely used in French, but they can be quite confusing. Many people don’t know how or when to use them. It’s easy to use them incorrectly or skip them altogether when we try to translate from our native languages. Remember all languages are different, and some things might not make sense to us. That’s why we need to understand the concepts and rules of each language.
In this post, we will see the different uses of these two pronouns. They’re not that hard once we understand the logic behind them. It’s important to understand them from the beginning since sooner or later you’ll need them. We may hate them at times, but they’re unavoidable. Let’s take a look.
Before we start, it’s important to mention that both y and en are adverbial pronouns. They replace places, objects, and quantities. They’re usually triggered by certain prepositions.
Unlike other languages, these pronouns are not optional. You have to use them yes or yes. There are a few rules we have to remember. Let’s continue.
Y is used to substitute either a place or an object of the preposition à. Y can be translated as there or it. Let’s look at some examples where y replaces a place:
J’adore Paris! J’y vais chaque année. I love Paris. I go (there) every year.
On va chez Alex. Il nous y attend. We’re going to Alex’s. He is waiting for us (there).
Lisa étudie à l’université. Elle y va trois fois par semaine. Lisa studies at the university. She goes (there) three times per week.
In most cases, y replaces phrases that start with prepositions of place like à, chez, dans, en, or sur. In other cases, y replaces an implied place, even when there is no preposition. Example: Ne quittes pas l’école. Restes-y. Don’t leave school. Stay there.
In English, it’s okay to say “I’m going,” but in French, you have to add y. Thus, je vais should be j’y vais.
The second use of y has to do with objects/concepts that follow the preposition à. Examples:
Je pense à ta proposition. J’y pense tout le temps. I’m thinking about your proposal. I think about it all the time.
Je ne crois pas à ton histoire. Je n’y crois pas. I don’t believe your story. I don’t believe it.
Note: We NEVER use y to replace people.
Just like y is triggered by prepositions like à, en is triggered by the preposition de and its variations (du, de l’, de la, des). En can be translated as one, any, some, of it/them, and about it/them.
The first use is indefinite/partitive articles:
Je cherche des raisons. J’en cherche. I’m looking for motives. I’m looking for (some).
Tu bois du café? T’en bois? Do you drink coffee? Do you drink (some)?
Tu manges des oranges? T’en manges? Do you eat oranges? Do you eat (some)?
The second use has to do with numbers. Examples:
Je veux 5 tacos. J’en veux 5. I want 5 tacos. I want 5 (of them).
Il a une voiture. Il en a une. He has one car. He has one (of them).
*When replacing something after a number, we always have to use en.
We also use en to replace nouns in quantities. Look at the examples below:
J’ai plusieurs amis. J’en ai plusieurs. I have several friends. I have several (of them).
Le jardin a beaucoup de plantes. Le jardin en a beaucoup. The garden has a lot of plants. The garden has a lot (of them).
Another use has to do with places. Examples:
Je rentre de New York. J’en rentre. I’m returning home from New York. I’m returning home (from there).
Il vient du Mexique. Il en vient. He’s coming from Mexico. He’s coming (from there).
Some verbs are usually followed by en. In such cases, we can also use en to replace the noun that follows such verbs. Examples:
J’ai besoin de l’argent. J’en ai besoin. I need money. I need it.
Que pensez-vous de ma decision? Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you think about my decision? What do you think (about it)?
Set Phrases with Y and En
Some phrases/expressions use y and en with no apparent reason. You will have to memorize them. Look at the tables below.
|Phrases with y||Translation|
|ça y est||that’s it|
|Il y a||there is/there are|
|on y va||let’s go|
|j’y suis||I understand|
|il fallait s’y attendre||it was to be expected|
|comme il fallait s’y attendre||as expected|
|il faut t’y faire||you have to get used to it|
|Phrases with en||Translation|
|en avoir marre de||to be fed up with|
|en être à||to be a part of|
|en rester là||to let the matter rest|
|en tenir pour||to have a crush on|
|s’en aller||to go away|
|s’en faire||to worry|
|s’en rapporter à||to rely on|
|c’en est fait de||that’s the end of|
|Je vous en prie||you’re welcome|
To Keep in Mind
The pronouns y and en are required in many cases. They may not make sense in our native languages, but they matter in French. They’re widely used in short answers or when we don’t want to be repetitive.
Generally speaking, you will know which one to use depending on the preposition it replaces. Y replaces nouns preceded by à or its variations à l’, à la, au, aux, while en replaces pronouns preceded by de or its variations du, de l’, de la, des. They replace both the preposition and the noun that comes after.
They always precede the verb in a sentence, no matter the tense. The only exception is with imperative sentences.
Test Your Knowledge
I recommend you practice using y and en as much as you can. You can look at the following sites to take a few quizzes and practice:
As a recap, I also recommend you check out Alexa’s video in case not everything is clear:
The French pronouns y and en can be confusing, but it’s important to understand them. They’re widely used in normal speech. If you omit them, your sentences will come across as incomplete. They may not make sense in your native language, but remember all languages are different. That’s why it’s not always a good idea to translate everything.
Prepositions are key. Remember certain prepositions indicate to us whether we should use y or en. Practice as much as you can and in no time you will master them.
I hope you found this useful. Please leave any questions or comments below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Au revoir, les amis!