`Y` in French – Why and How to Use it
‘Y’ in French is an adverbial pronoun (pronoms adverbiaux). What is that? An adverbial pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun while acting as an adverb.
The placement is such that the adverbial pronoun is placed before the verb in every type of tense except when it comes to imperative sentences. ‘En’ is another example of adverbial pronouns in French.
Let’s look at how ‘y’ is placed within the language:
1. Used Instead of a Place
Usually in French a place has a preposition of place before it. These can be identified as à, sous, au, en and so on.
Je vais au Maroc (I am going to Morocco) – j’y vais (I go)
Joaquin va à la banque (Joaquin goes to the bank) – Joaquin y va (Joaquin goes)
2. Used for ‘There’
When you are trying to talk about the existence of an object in English, we say ‘there is’ or ‘there are’. In French we use, il y a.
Il n’y a pas de bons spectacles à la télé (There are no good shows on TV)
Il y a de la glace (There is some ice cream)
Fun fact: Use these pronunciations to sound like you come from the streets of France.
Il y a: ya
Il n’y a pas de: yapad
You’ll notice that there is an ‘a’ present in these sentences which is the representation of verb ‘avoir’. There are various ways it can be conjugated with il y like il n’y aura pas etc.
3. Used to Substitute A Thing
If contractive articles are employed in a sentence, then the pronoun ‘y’ can be used to replace. There is a list of verbs that are naturally followed by these articles such as penser. A quick trick would be to learn the common ones and practice making sentences with y.
Contractive Articles: au (masculine singular), à la (feminine singular), aux (M+F plural), à l’ (M+F starting with vowel), à
Elle répond au téléphone (She is answering the phone) – Elle y répond (She’s answering it)
Ils pensent à leur match (They’re thinking of their match) – Ils y pensent (They’re thinking of it)
* In the last example we used à + leur because when there is à+person (in this case their), we use indirect pronouns (me, te, vous, nous, lui, leur) or stress pronoun (nous, vous, moi, toi, lui, eux, elle, elles), depending on the context. Unfortunately, you’ll have to learn when to use which.
Je t’y retrouve à 6 heures (I’m meeting you there at 6)
4. Used for Weather
The phrase il y a is also used to describe weather. Here the phrase is usually followed by a partitive article (de, du, des, de la, de l’) and a noun.
Il y a de la pluie (There is rain)
5. Used in Affirmative Imperatives
In positive imperative statement, y is placed with a hyphen followed by a verb.
Retournez – y! (Return there!)
Practise all you can, and you’ll soon master the use of ‘y’ pronoun. See you next lesson!