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French Grammar

How to Use the Pronoun Y in French

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on September 17, 2013
Camille Chevalier-Karfis

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.

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…”:

  1. Je vais à Paris = j’y vais
  2. Je vais en France = j’y vais
  3. Je vais au Japon = j’y vais

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 (never a person) introduced by “à, au, aux, à l’, à la”

Upper Intermediate Level

À Moi Paris Level 5

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  • Je pense à mon travail = j’y pense
  • Je réfléchis aux problèmes internationaux – j’y réfléchis

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

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

  • Je pense à lui – I think of him

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

french slang caution

Elle pense à son prochain voyage en France… Ou a son petit-copain français!

3 – 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

4 – “Il y a” to Talk About the Weather

We also use “Il y a” a lot for expressions of weather

  1. Il y a + partitive article + noun
  2. Il y a du soleil – (there is some sun) = it’s sunny out
  3. Il y a de la neige – (there is some snow) – it’s snowy out

5 – The Glidings With the Expression “il y a”

The “a” is the verb “avoir” and can be conjugated: “il y avait, il n’y aura pas…”

The common pronunciation in glided spoken street French is quite different from the written form:

  1. Il y a = ya
  2. il n’y a pas de = yapad
  3. il n’y aura pas de = yorapad

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 modern glided pronunciation of il-y-a in French, as well as the French pronoun EN

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