`Y` in French – Why and How to Use it
In French, ‘y’ is used as an adverbial pronoun. A must-know when learning the language, it has its own unique uses and plays an important role in every day sentences. Let’s find out how and when to use it.
It’s important to keep in mind that the adverbial pronoun remains before the verb in every tense except when it comes to imperative sentences. ‘En’ for example is another adverbial pronoun you will come across while learning French, and it is used in similar ways as ‘y’.
Now, let’s take look at how ‘y’ is placed within the language:
1. Used Instead of a Place
In French, when talking about the position or location of one thing to another, you will always find a ‘preposition of place’. These can be identified as à, sous, au, en and so on.
Je vais au Maroc (I am going to Morocco)
Joaquin va à la banque (Joaquin goes to the bank)
However, ‘y’ can replace these ‘prepositions of place’ as seen below:
J’y vais (I am going there)
Joaquin y va (Joaquin is going there)
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)
Tip: In conversational French, you’ll notice that it’s very common for native speakers to shorten the pronunciation of il y a, just like how ‘going to’ can be shortened to ‘gonna’ in English.
Il y a: ya
Il n’y a pas de: ya pa de
You’ll notice that there is an ‘a’ present in these sentences which is represents the verb ‘avoir’. There are various ways it can be conjugated with il y such as il n’y aura pas, a negation in the future tense for example.
3. Used to Substitute A Thing
If ‘contractive articles’ are employed in a sentence, then the pronoun ‘y’ can be used to replace them. 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 about 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 either use an ‘indirect pronoun’ (me, te, vous, nous, lui, leur) or a ‘stress pronoun’ (nous, vous, moi, toi, lui, eux, elle, elles)depending on the context. It may seem like a lot to remember, but you’ll find that it’s very useful to know when to use each one.
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 what the weather is like. In this case, il y a is usually followed by a ‘partitive article’ (de, du, des, de la, de l’) and then a noun.
Il y a de la pluie (There is rain)
Il y a de la neige (There is snow)
5. Used in Affirmative Imperatives
In a positive imperative statement ‘y’ is placed after the verb. Don’t forget to add the hyphen between the verb and ‘y’.
Retournez – y! (Return there!)
And there you have it, everything there is to know on the ‘y’ pronoun. Now all that’s left for you to do is practice as much as you can, and you’ll master it in no time. See you next lesson!