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French Grammar

How to Use the Pronoun EN in French

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on October 21, 2013

The French adverbial pronouns Y and En follow the same kind of logic. For each pronouns there are 2 main points to understand.

1 – En Is Linked to a Notion of QUANTITY

The pronoun “en” replaces a noun. Unfortunately in French, there are many French pronouns to chose from according to the grammatical value of the noun, or the way it’s being used.

We use “en” to replace a noun modified by a notion of quantity.

This quantity is likely to be introduced by a partitive article “De, du, de la, de l’, des” , or a French number such as “un, une, trois, vingt-huit”… or a fraction “un quart”… or an adverb of quantity “beaucoup de, un peu de”… or an expression of quantity “un kilo de, un litre de, une boîte de…”.

  • Je veux 6 pommes = j’en veux 6. (“en” replaces pommes, and we choose “en” because of the notion of quantity: here the number”6″, which is then repeated)

So, if you translate into English, you could say: “I would like 6 apples – I would like 6 (of them)”… but who would say “of them” in English?? This is a situation where translating is not going to be very useful. You need to understand the French logic and remember to apply it = when you replace a noun modified by a notion of quantity, you need to use “en” in French.

  1. Je bois de l’eau = j’en bois. (“en replaces “eau”, and we choose “en” because of the notion of quantity, here the partitive article “de l'”)
  2. Je mange du gâteau = j’en mange. (because of the “du”)
  3. J’achète des pommes = j’en achète (plusieurs) –  (because of the “des”). Note, you don’t have to say the “plusieurs” part (meaning several), but you can.
  4. J’ai deux enfants = j’en ai deux. (because of the “deux”)

Note that you will always repeat a number and also an adverb of quantity or expression of quantity:

  1. Je voudrais beaucoup de sucre = j’en voudrais beaucoup. (“en” replaces “sucre”, “beaucoup” is an adverb of quantity and you need to repeat it in your answer)
  2. J’achète un litre de vin = j’en achète un litre. (“en” replaces “vin”, “un litre” is an expression of quantity and needs to be repeated in the answer)
  3. Je mange un paquet de petits-gâteaux = j’en mange un paquet. (“en” replaces “petits-gâteaux”, “un paquet”is an expression of quantity and needs to be repeated in the answer)

Remember that PAS is also a quantity, so you’d use “en” and repeat the “pas”:

  • Je ne veux pas de lait = je n’en veux pas.
    Watch out, students of French tend to forget that one…

And “un, une” are also numbers, so they need to be repeated in the answer:

  • Tu as un chien ? oui, j’en ai un.
    Same remark. This is tricky for students of French who often forget to repeat the “one”.

To miss in French

2 – En Replaces a THING Introduced by a Verb Followed by “de, du, de la, de l’, des” (not a quantity here).

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  1. Je rêve de mes vacances = j’en rêve
  2. Je parle de mon voyage = j’en parle

The “de, du , des…” often comes from the verb meaning that this particular verb is going to be followed by the preposition “de”, and that is why you’d be using a “de” there.

This is the case for my examples “rêver de” and “parler de”.

So, in order to master EN, you should really learn the most common verbs followed by the preposition de in French. And train on making sentences using EN with these verbs.

When the “de, du, des…” introduce a person in this context, then you must use a stress pronoun (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles)

  • Je rêve de Jean = je rêve de lui

3 – En = Strong Liaison and Glidings

Now with “en”, it’s important to note that it’s followed by a strong liaison, and usually part of expressions that glide a lot in spoken French:

  • Il y en a = yan na
  • Il n’y en a pas = yan na pa
    So the negative form is pronounced almost the same way – only the pas (or plus, aucun..) will tell you it’s negative.

A lot of French people would do a mistake and write “j’en n’ai pas” when it is actually “Je n’en ai pas”, just because the liaison with “en” in N is so strong that is sounds like the negative, and because we are so accustomed to writing “n’ai pas”…

It actually calls for a big effort to write “je n’en ai pas”, because the spoken glided French sounds like “jan nay pa”…

To master French pronunciation and understand this notion of “gliding” I suggest you check out my Secrets of French Pronunciation Audio Lesson.

4 – En = French Preposition or Adverb?

Watch out that “en” can also be a PREPOSITION or an ADVERB, having different meanings:

  1. Il va en France – he goes to france
  2. l’avion fait Paris-Boston en 6 heures – it takes the plane 6 hrs to cover Paris-Boston
  3. Je vais à Paris en voiture – I go to Paris by car
  4. Nous sommes en novembre, en 2012 – we’re in November, in 2012.

5 – “En” is part of many idioms

  1. J’en ai marre = I’m fed up
  2. Je m’en vais = I’m leaving
  3. Ne t’en fais pas = don’t worry

You will remember these grammar rules and vocabulary much better when you learn them in the context of a story. I highly recommend you check out my unique downloadable French audiobooks, featuring different speeds of recording and enunciation, and focussing on today’s modern glided pronunciation, exclusively on sale on French Today.

And now, click this link to learn about the pronoun Y in French

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