French Language Blog

Pesky Pronouns: Y and En Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in Grammar

In French, the most well known pronouns, of course, are je (I), tu (you singular), il/elle/on (he/she), nous (we)vous (you plural/formal), ils/elles (they). But there are many other–and more confusing–pronouns as well. The peskiest of these–and the most difficult for many French learners to master–is and en. 


These pronouns are called, more precisely, adverbial pronouns because they actually act as adverbs, too. They replace both nouns in a sentence, as pronouns do, and replace quantities, relationships, and quantities, just as adverbs do. **They are typically used once the noun has already been used in a previous sentence to refer back to the previously-noted noun.**

Let’s take a look at each pronoun:

y typically is used to replace words that follow the preposition à

while en is used to replace words that follow the preposition de

(A good way to remember this is one letter (y) replaces one letter (à), while two letters (en) replaces two letters (de).

Most typically, replaces a location that follows the preposition à. For example: Je vais à la banque. Je ne sais pas à quelle heure je vais y aller. 

In the previous example, notice how the noun (la banque) is previously noted. In the second sentence, the y replaces the noun (la banque) and acts as if it is modifying the verb aller.

**It is important to note that y can replace almost any noun EXCEPT for a person. This means that you would never say Je parle à Georges. J’y parle. This is incorrect.**

While can typically replace locations or a non-animate thing (Je pense à ma voiture. J’y pense), en typically replaces a quantity of something and can mean “some,” “any,”or even “it.”

For example:

Tu veux manger de la viande?

Non, j’en ai déjà mangé.

This literally translates to: “Do you want to eat some meat? No, I already ate some.”

Here, en replaces the noun de la viande and modifies the verb avoir mangé.

However, like with y, en can never replace a person. For example, you could not say: Jean parle de moi. Il en parle. This is incorrect.

Also, don’t mix up the pronoun en with the preposition en, which means “in.” They are spelled the same but have completely different meanings!

Can you think of sentences using either or en? Write them in the comments below!



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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!