French Connection | Y & En

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In this French Connection edition, I’ll be covering aspects of grammar that will make referring to various objects in French much more complicated initially, but much simpler and shorter in the end.

Here’s what we’ve been covering in French class, and what we’ll cover today:

  • Referring to locations in a natural, conversational way using y and en
  • Incorporating negation into y and en
  • Incorporating the past tense into y and en
  • Incorporating infinitives into y and en

Y & En

Y (pronounced e) and En (pronounced on) are both ways of referring to locations or things in a manner of saying “I went there” to avoid monotonous repetition in natural conversation. For example, if I were to say, “Did you go to the café down the street?” you would much rather say “Yes, I went there” than “Yes I went to the café down the street”.

Y is used when referring to when you are going to a certain place or are going to do something, while En is used when referring to when you are returning or coming from a place or from doing something, although from what I’ve learned, it’s most commonly used to refer to locations. Either form is placed after the pronoun, and before the conjugated form of the verb. For example, to say “I went there,” you might say “J’y vais”. Any additional adjective, such as saying “today” (aujourd’hui) are placed after the verb. Because Je and y flow together, we use an apostrophe, but in other pronouns, such as nous, we keep the pronoun the same and simply place the ‘y’ after, as in “Nous y allons”. 

En is used in the same way, with a sample sentence being “Vous en allez” or “Tu en vas”. And while technically, en does mean to come from, it can also mean to go in general. Use the premise of the situation to determine which preposition works best.

Avec Le Négatif

When you want to say “I didn’t go there”, or other variations of this, you place the n’ right before the preposition, and the conjugated verb is placed after the preposition, whereas the conclusion to the negation, ie pas (to simply say not), jamais (never), etc., is placed after the verb.

You might say: Je n’y vais pas.

Or: Il n’y va pas.

Avec Le Passé Composé

When you throw in the past tense, things get significantly more complicated, because the passé composers requires the use of helping verbs in addition to the verb you’re dealing with. In this case, the beginning pronoun and preposition remain the same, but the helping verb is then placed after, followed by the negation conclusion, followed by the conjugated verb (but conjugated to be in the past tense).

Pronoun + N’ + Y/En + Helping Verb + Pas/Jamais/Etc. + Conjugated Verb

So you might say: Je n’y suis pas allé.

Or: Tu n’y es pas allé? 

BUT: also remember that allé is one of those special verbs that requires the verb être WHEN IN THE PAST TENSE, whereas most verbs use the verb avoir.

In this case, you might say: Je n’y ai suis pas vu.

Avec Le Passé Composé N’avec Pas Le Négatif

The above examples all build on the idea of if you are negating the sentence. To simply put “I was going there” into a sentence, you only need to take out the aspects of negation, and use this format:

Pronoun + Y/En + Helping Verb + Conjugated

So, you might say: J’y suis allé.

Or: Tu y es allé.

Or: Il y est pris (to take).

Avec Le Infinitif

Oftentimes, questions involve more than just asking if we went something, and involve another verb. As we know, when two verbs are placed after a pronoun, the first one is conjugated and the second one is left in the infinitive (unconjugated) form. For example, “I like eating” would be “J’aime manger”, which can also be directly translated as “I like to eat” if that makes more sense in understanding why the second isn’t conjugated.

When combined with these prepositions, the first verb is placed after the pronoun, followed by the preposition, followed by the infinitive.

Pronoun + Conjugated Verb + Y/En + Infinitive

For example, to say “I like going there”, you could say, “J’aime y aller”.

Similar structure can be applied to other pronouns and forms of verbs.

To introduce a negative into this situation, the n’ is added after the pronoun and the negation conclusion after the infinitive.

For example: “I don’t like taking that” would be “Je n’aime y prendre”.

I hope this helped in making your conversations more natural, which can be difficult when learning a new, foreign language.

Thank you so much for reading!



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