What does “il y a” mean in French? What’s that French “ya”? Free French lesson to understand the French adverbial pronoun “y” and the expression “il y a”.
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1 – The French Pronoun Y Replaces A PLACE.
A place is introduced by a preposition of place which can be “à” but also “sur, sous, en, au, aux…”:
- Je vais à Paris = j’y vais
I’m going to Paris = I’m going there
- Je vais en France = j’y vais
I’m going to France = I’m going there
- Je vais au Japon = j’y vais
I’m going to Japan = I’m going there
When you study this, the key is to know well the rules on prepositions of places in French.
2 – The French Pronoun Y Also Replaces A THING
The French Pronoun Y also Replaces a thing (never a person) introduced by “à, au, aux, à l’, à la”
- Je pense à mon travail = j’y pense
(y replacing “à mon travail”)
I’m thinking about my work = I’m thinking about it
- Je réfléchis aux problèmes internationaux – j’y réfléchis
(y replacing “aux problèmes internationaux)
I’m pondering the international problems = I’m pondering them
The “à, au, aux, à la à l'” often comes from the verb meaning that this particular verb is going to be followed by “à”, and that is why you’d be using a “à” there.
This is the case for my examples “penser à” and “réfléchir à”.
So, in order to master Y, you should really learn the most common verbs followed by à in French. And train on making sentences using Y with these verbs.
Note than when a verb is followed by à + PERSON, you need to use an indirect object pronoun (me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur):
- Je parle à Pierre = je lui parle
I’m talking to Pierre = I’m talking to him
(the verb is parler à quelqu’un)
Or a stress pronoun: “moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles”
- Je pense à lui
I think of him
(the verb is penser à quelqu’un)
You cannot guess, you have to know which verb’s construction asks for which pronoun – indirect object or stress… another difficulty of French…
The various French pronouns are explained in depth and illustrated in context within the story of my French learning method À Moi Paris L3 – with audio of course!
3 – How To Translate “Il Y A”?
The French expression “il y a” is very common.
“Il y a” means there is, there are, it’s also used to translate the notion of “ago” in French, and it’s part of many French expression, especially to talk about the weather.
How To Say “There Is, There Are” In French?
Il y a states the existence of something – there is, there are
- Il y a des livres sur la table
There are some books on the table.
- Il n’y a pas de vin
There is no wine
- Il n’y a plus de bon vin blanc
There is no more good white wine
How To Translate “Ago” In French?
In French, we use the expression “il y a” to translate the notion of “ago”.
- Il y a dix ans, j’habitais à boston
Ten years ago, I lived in Boston
- Il est parti il y a dix minutes
He left ten minutes ago
“Il Y A” To Talk About The Weather
We also use “Il y a” a lot for expressions of weather. In this case, we often use the construction “Il y a + partitive article + noun”
- Il y a du soleil
There is some sun = it’s sunny out
- Il y a de la neige
There is some snow = it’s snowy out
There are many more expressions featuring “il y a” in French. As I said above, “il y a” is very common and sometimes won’t translate literally in English!
4 – How To Pronounce “Il Y A” in French?
“Il y a” is probably the common French expression where the everyday modern French pronunciation versus overly enunciated pronunciation – often featured in French methods – is the most blatant.
And this often comes to a shock to poor students of French who were never prepared for that!
“Il Y A” – Overly Enunciated French Pronunciation
When pronouncing “il y a”, there will always be a vowel gliding between the “y” and the “a”, making it sound like “ya“.
So if someone enunciated a lot, like maybe someone reciting French poetry, “il y a” would be pronounced “eel ee ya“. All in one breath, you cannot breathe or stop in the middle.
“Il Y A” Everyday French Pronunciation
In everyday use, the double “i” sound of the Y would be dropped, and we’d pronounce “il y a” “eelya“. This is for me the most common “enunciated” French pronunciation of “il y a”, the one students of French should learn.
What Is “Ya” In French?
When French natives speak fast and in a relaxed environment , the pronunciation of “il y a” would glide even more!
- “il y a” would sometimes become “ee ya“, dropping the L sound.
- or even more common, the whole “il y a” would just become “ya“.
Now it’s important you understand everybody speaks like that in a relaxed setting: politicians would speak like that at home, my 80 years young mother would say “ya” as well, so would I or my daughter…
This is a very, very common French gliding.
And of course, it affects all the variations / conjugations of “il y a”:
- Il y a = ya
There is, there are, ago…
- Il n’y a pas = yapa
There isn’t, there aren’t
- Il y en a = yan na
- Il n’y en a pas = yan napa
There isn’t any
- Il y aura = yora
There will be (future)
- Il y a eu = ya u
There was/were (passé-composé)
- Il y avait – ya vè
There was/were (imparfait)
- Y a-t-il = ya teel
Is there, are there (question with inversion)
Of course, you are not supposed to write “ya” instead of “il y a”, but you’ll find “ya” or “y’a” in texting, some coming books… Anywhere where French is spelled the way it sounds.
5 – “Il Y A” Pronunciation Recap
So let’s compare the sounds: from the most overly enunciated to the most glided form of “il y a”:
- eel ee ya
- eelya – the one you should memorize
- ee ya
- ya – very common in spoken French: you need to understand it!
To train on the pronunciation of “il y a” in spoken French, 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 French pronoun EN