January 28, 2014

french pronouns EN and Y

Confused about French pronouns en and y?

Don't worry, French grammar may not be simple but it is indeed very logical and detail-oriented. In this article, let's try to remove once and for all any confusion you might still have over the French pronouns en and y.

You have probably seen them many many times already when reading French text. But when to use them, which types of nouns can they replace? Just take 5 minutes to go through this article and you won't need to ask these anymore.

What exactly are en and y?

‘Y’ and ‘en’ are minuscule French pronouns, yeah, so minuscule that some think they can be removed from the sentence.

However, ‘y’ and ‘en’ are so powerful in the construction of French sentences for these two can change the entire sense of the sentence and sometimes the whole paragraph. Just like how bacteria can change the world if they are omitted.

So if you think your French sentences still don’t make sense after you have read and applied all the things that you have learned from all the French articles here in this website, this might help you a lot. 

Y: Replaces Something but not Someone

You were probably taught that the English counterpart of ‘y’ is ‘there.’ Well, yeah, that’s the most popular or the easiest way of  how to use ‘y’ but actually, it’s just one of its many uses.

Y is a pronoun, and it is used to replace the structure à +noun.

Some of you might say "But that is the structure to be replaced by an indirect object pronoun". Yes, actually it looks very similar, but there is a difference.

Y can only be used to refer to inanimate objects, ideas or places, so it must replace something and not someone.


Nous allons à Paris demain
We are going to Paris tomorrow
turns as Nous y allons demain.
We are going there tomorrow
Nous pensons à la situation    
We are thinking about the situation
turns as Nous pensons     
We are thinking about it


EN: De + Noun

Enis usually translated into of it or about it. But be careful, in English you can sometimes drop the "of it", but in French you should never drop the pronoun en.

En replaces the structure partitive article + noun or de + noun.

As tu du pain?
Do you have any bread?
Oui, j'en ai
Yes, I have (some of it).
As-tu besoin d'aide?
Do you need an assistant?
Oui, j'en ai besoin.
Yes, I need one.

In a sentence with a number, en replaces the noun after the number and the number is placed at the end of the sentence.

Nous avons acheté cinq chocolats 
We bought five chocolates
Nous en avons acheté cinq.
We bought five (of it)

En also replaces the noun after a quantity word (beaucoup, moitié…). The rule is the same with number, en replaces the noun and the quantity word is placed at the end of the sentence.

J'ai perdu la moitié de mes cartes
I have lost half of my cards.
J'en ai perdu la moitié
I have lost half of them.

Here's a small tip

It is very useful to answer questions by using these pronouns, so try to practice them as much as you can in daily conversations. It will help you become more familiar with them.

Quick Recap

  • Y replaces the structure à + noun, it can replace anything except a person (or more precisely an animate object).
  • En replaces the structure de + noun. You could also think about this pronoun when you encounter a noun after a partitive article, a quantity word or a number.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about these pronouns.

Want more? Check out the French Grammar Mastery Course

P.S. You would be doing me a HUGE FAVOR by sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, Google + or Pinterest.

About the author 

Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}