The “Y’s” and “En’s” Have It

Notes on the subject, although I have reviewed this grammar topic before, it helps to revisit this one, since it appears constantly:

y & en – two pronouns which you cannot do without.

y – You may have been taught that “y” means there.

In fact, “there” is only one of a large number of possible meanings.

In these examples, “y” does indeed mean there…

  • J’y habite (I live there)
  • Elle y a connu son futur mari (She met her future husband there)
  • Ils y vont ce soir (They’re going there this evening)
  • Il y a un très bon restaurant (There’s a very good restaurant there)
  • Tu y as vu Sylvie ? (Did you see Silvie there ?)
  • On va y construire un hôtel (They’re going to build a hotel there)

But, as you will see, “y” is a pronoun…and the purpose of a pronoun is to replace something.

The purpose of “y” is to replace à + something.

y = à + thing, the pronoun “y” can only be used to refer to inanimate objects, ideas or places. In short, it must refer to something not someone. Put another way, “y” can refer to anything but a person. So think of it as replacing à + a thing (à + T).

In this example “y” means there à Nous allons à Paris demain…. à Paris becomes “y”, and it comes before the verb. Pronouns are placed before verbs in French.

In this example “y” means there à Nous y allons demain (We’re going there tomorrow).

But in this example, “y” means something else. Je pensais à l’examen (I was thinking about the exam). Je pensais à l’examen… à l’examen à”y”… J’y pensais (I was thinking about it).

And in this example, “y” means something else again. Il s’intéresse au sport (He is interested in sport)…au sport à “y”…Il s’y intéresse (He is interested in it).

What does “y” mean in these examples?

Je n’arrive pas à m’y habituer. (where y  = au bruit). s’habituer à : to get used to (I just can’t get used to it). It = the noise.

Le directeur répondra à la lettre. Le directeur y répondra. (where y = à la lettre). The headmaster will answer it. It = the letter.

Il rêve à un nouveau depuis janvier. Il y rêve depuis janvier. (where y = à un nouveau). rêver à = to dream about. He’s been dreaming about it since January. (about the mobile phone)

Elle ne croit plus à l’amour. Elle n’y croit plus. (where y = à l’amour) croire à : to believe in. She no longer believes in it.

Nous avons assisté au concert. Nous y avons assisté. (where y = au concert) assister à : to be present at : We were present at it (at the concert).

y can also replace en + something: Mon oncle habite en France (My uncle lives in France). Mon oncle y habite (My uncle lives there).

“y” in short, means whatever it needs to mean to make sense.

en – You may have been taught that “en” means “of it” or “of them”. In fact, “of it” and “of them” are only two of a range of possible meanings. In these examples, en does indeed mean of it/them.

  • Elle en a peur (She is afraid of it)
  • J’en ai marre (I’ve had enough of it)
  • Tu en as assez ? (Do you have enough of it?)
  • Il en a trouvé trois (He found three of them)
  • On en a vu beaucoup (We saw a lot of them)
  • J’en garde les meilleurs (I keep the best of them)

en – But, like “y”, en is a pronoun…and the purpose of a pronoun is to replace something. The purpose of “en” is to replace “de + something”. en = de + T. Put another way, en can refer to anything but a person. So think of it as replacing “de + a thing” (de + T)

en = de + T – The pronoun “en” can only be used to refer to inanimate objects, ideas or places. In short, it must refer to something not someone. Put another way, “en” can refer to anything but a person. So think of it as replacing de + a thing (de + T).

In this example, en means of them à J’ai perdu la moitié de mes CDs (I’ve lost half of my CDs). des mes CDs becomes “en”.

The “en” is placed before the verb, and since Je is contracted à J’en ai perdu la moitié (I’ve lost half of them).

But in this example, “en” means something else. Nous parlons des élections (We’re talking about the elections). des élections becomes “en”. Nous en parlons (We talk about them).

And sometimes, en is not translated at all into English. Je ne veux plus de salade (I don’t want any more salad). de salade becomes «en ».  Je n’en veux plus (I don’t want any more).

What does « en » mean in these examples ?

J’en ai perdu la clef (where en = de la salle). I’ve lost the key to it (to the room).

Il en est l’auteur. (where en = du livre). He is the author (of the book).

Nous en avons remarqué un grand nombre. (where en = de papillons). We have noticed a great many of them (a great many butterflies).

Je vais m’en débarrasser. (where en = de mes vieilles chaussures) se débarrasseur de : to get rid of. I’m going to get rid of them (of my old shoes).

Elle ne s’en souvient pas (where en = de l’accident). se souvenir de : to remember. She doesn’t remember it (the accident).

Il faut en profiter (where en = de l’opportunité). profiter de : to take advantage of. You must take advantage of it (of the opportunity).

Je m’en suis servi pour me défendre (where en = du revolver). se servir de : to use. I used it to defend myself (the revolver).

Est-ce que tu vas t’en charger ? (where en = de la situation). se charger de : to take responsibility for. Are you going to take responsibility for it (the situation) ?

In short, “en” means whatever it needs to mean to make sense!

Summary:

The purpose of “y” is to replace à/au/en + something.

The purpose of “en” is to replace de/du + something.

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