Audio Guide to the French Pronoun Y – Pronunciation & Use

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

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”.

The French adverbial pronouns “Y” and “En” follow the same kind of logic. It’s a double logic meaning that for each pronoun there are 2 main points to understand.

This article comes with audio recordings. Press the link next to the headphones to play the audio.

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…”:

  1. Je vais à Paris = j’y vais
    I’m going to Paris = I’m going there
  2. Je vais en France = j’y vais
    I’m going to France = I’m going there
  3. 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.

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”

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):

Or a stress pronoun:  “moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles”

You cannot guess, you have to know which verb’s construction asks for which pronoun – indirect object or stress… another difficulty of French…

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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

  1. Il y a des livres sur la table
    There are some books on the table.
  2. Il n’y a pas de vin
    There is no wine
  3. 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”.

  1. Il y a dix ans, j’habitais à boston
    Ten years ago, I lived in Boston
  2. 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”

  1. Il y a du soleil
    There is some sun = it’s sunny out
  2. 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!

How To Pronounce “Il Y A” in French?

“Il y a” is probably the common French expression where the everyday French pronunciation versus overly enunciated pronunciation – often featured in French methods – is the most blatant.

And this modern way of speaking French often comes to a shock to poor students of French who were never prepared for that!

So let’s study how you may have learned to say “il y a” and see how most French people would pronounce “il y a” in a regular, relaxed French conversation today.

“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.

That’s probably what you’ve learned in your French classes. However, it’s quite unlikely you’ll hear “il y a” spoken this way in France.

“Il Y A” Everyday Enunciated French Pronunciation

In France, if someone was to enunciate quite well, the double “i” sound of the Y would be dropped, and we’d pronounce “il y a” “eelya“.

This is a common “enunciated” French pronunciation of “il y a”, the one students of French should learn in school since it would be fine to use in a rather formal register.

What Is “Ya” In French?

When French natives speak fast and in a relaxed environment , the pronunciation of “il y a” glides even more!

  • “il y a” would sometimes sound like “ee ya“, dropping the L sound.
  • or even more common, the whole “il y a” would just become a “ya” sound.

Now it’s important you understand the large majority of French people 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. It’s not really slang, it’s something almost everybody does.

And of course, it affects all the variations / conjugations of “il y a”:

  1. Il y a = ya
    There is, there are, ago…
  2. Il n’y a pas = yapa
    There isn’t, there aren’t
  3. Il y en a = yan na
    There’s some
  4. Il n’y en a pas = yan napa
    There isn’t any
  5. Il y aura = yora
    There will be (future)
  6. Il y a eu = ya u
    There was/were (passé-composé)
  7. Il y avait – ya vè
    There was/were (imparfait)
  8. Y a-t-il = ya teel
    Is there, are there (question with inversion)

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.

“Il Y A” Pronunciation Recap

So let’s compare the sounds: from the most overly enunciated to the most common spoken form of “il y a”:

  1. eel ee ya
  2. eelya – the one you should memorize
  3. ee ya
  4. 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.

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

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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