Master the french pronouns 'en' and 'y'

” Can you help me mastering the pronouns ‘en’ and ‘y’ ? “

” When can use ‘en’ vs ‘y’ ? “

” I always make mistake with these pronouns ! “

I often get these questions in my French classes. These tiny pronouns can indeed cause a few issues for students at an intermediate level. Furthermore, they rarely come as an automatism. In fact, there is probably no real equivalent in your mother tongue. So it’s important to practice and understand their value.

Get better at using the pronouns 'en' and y in French

Once you start to feel confident in French, you will want to form more structured phrases with complements and pronouns. I’ll help you through your French learning journey.

  1. When do we use the pronoun ‘en’ ?
  2. What is the pronoun ‘y’ ?
  3. Where do we place ‘en’ and ‘y’ in a phrase ?
en and y pronouns in french

When do we use the pronoun 'en' ?

The pronoun ‘en’ is used to replace ‘un, une, du, de la, de l’, des’.

We can also specify the quantity.

ex : Est-ce que vous avez du beurre salé ?
Oui, nous en avons au fond du magasin (specified quantity)
Oui, nous en avons 3 cartons (unspecified quantity)
Non, malheureusement, nous n’en avons plus (négative)

= Do you have salted butter ?
Yes, we have some at the back of the store
Yes, we have 3 boxes (of it)
No, unfortunately we don’t have any more

Attention : sometimes the response can be awkward if you don’t define the quantity. Here, if you just add ‘oui j’en ai’, it means I have some (i.e many) !

ex : Vous avez des enfants ? Oui, j’en ai deux = Do you have kids ? Yes, I have two.

‘En’ with verbs or adjectives followed the preposition ‘de’

For instance, these verbs can be : parler de (to talk about), rêver de (to dream about), s’occuper de (to take care of), avoir besoin de (to need), se souvenir de (to remember),…

The adjectives with ‘de’ includes : être content de (to be happy about), être fier de (to be proud of), être triste (to be sad),…

ex : Vous avez parlé du projet de Candice pendant la reunion ? Oui, nous en avons parlé.
= Did you talk about Candice’s project during the meeting ? Yes, we talked about it
ex : Elle vient du bureau ? Oui, elle en vient 
= Is she coming from the office ? Yes, she is

Finally, ‘en’ can be used in a few French expressions

Here, ‘en’ doesn’t replace anything in particular.

ex : Je m’en vais = I am leaving.

This is the reflexive verb ‘s’en aller’ which always combines with ‘en’

ex : Il en veut à sa mère = He resent his mother

Be careful, this is ‘en vouloir à quelqu’un’ is not to be confused with the verb ‘vouloir’ (to want).

pronoun en in french

What is the pronoun 'y' ?

The pronoun ‘y’ is sometimes more difficult to understand, especially with Il y a’.

Actually, there are 3 ways we can use the French pronoun ‘y’.

‘Y’ can replace a noun or a place (complement de lieu)

ex : Vous aimez aller à la plage ? Oui, nous aimons y aller
= Do you like going to the beach? Yes, we like to go
ex : Ils sont en Bretagne ? Non, ils n’y sont plus
= Are they in Brittany? No, they are no longer there

It is also used to replace a verb constructed with ‘à’

ex : Tu joues au volleyball ? Oui j’y joue = Do you play volleyball? Yes, I play it

Remember : When the preposition ‘à’ is followed by a person, we will use a tonic pronoun instead (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles).

ex : Tu t’intéresses à cette fille ? Oui, je m’intéresse à elle = Are you interested in that girl ? Yes, I am interested in her.

The pronoun ‘y’ can be found in some specific idioms too

  1. Il y a deux solutions possible = There are two possible solutions
  2. Ça y est, elle est parti ! = That’s it, she’s gone !
  3. Je m’y connais en mathématiques = I know all about math 
french pronoun y

Where do we place the pronouns 'en' and 'y' in a sentence?

Three scenarios are possible :

Firstly, if ‘en’ or ‘y’ are alone in the sentence

Then the pronouns will be placed before the verb :

ex : Il y pensent chaque jour = They think about it everyday

ex : Est-ce que tu as un téléphone portable ? Oui, j’en ai deux
= Do you have a mobile phone ? Yes, I have two

Secondly, when there is another pronoun in the sentence

In this case, ‘en’ and ‘y’ are placed last :

ex : Elle t’a emmenée au cours de danse? Oui, elle m’y a emmenée
= Did she take you to the dance class ? Yes, she took me there

ex : Vous avez parlé de ce projet à Matthieu ? Non, je ne lui en ai pas parlé
= Did you speak about this project to Matthew ? Non, I didn’t tell him about it

Finally, for semi-auxiliary verbs (aller, pouvoir, vouloir, devoir)

The pronouns will go before the infinitive in this situation :

ex : Je ne peux pas en manger = I cannot eat it
ex : Tu dois y aller = You have to go

how to use the pronouns en and y

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