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Y - French Pronoun

French adverbial pronoun ~ Pronom adverbial

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The French adverbial pronoun y is so tiny that one might think its role in a sentence is not very important, but in fact quite the opposite is true. It is extremely important in French.

Y refers to a previously mentioned or implied place; it is normally translated by "there" in English. Y usually replaces a prepositional phrase beginning with something like à, chez, or dans.

   Are you going to the bank today? No, I'm going (there) tomorrow.
   Tu vas à la banque aujourd'hui ? Non, j'y vais demain.

   We're going to the store. Do you want to go (there)?
   Nous allons au magasin. Tu veux y aller ?

   He was at Jean's house. He was there.
   Il était chez Jean. Il y était.

Note that "there" can often be omitted in English, but y can never be omitted in French. Je vais (I'm going) is not a complete sentence in French; if you don't follow the verb with a place, you have to say J'y vais.


Y can also replace à + a noun that is not a person,* such as with verbs that need à. Note that in French, you must include either à + something or its replacement y, even though the equivalent may be optional in English. You cannot replace the noun with an object pronoun.

   I'm responding to a letter. I'm responding (to it).
   Je réponds à une lettre. J'y réponds.
   Wrong: Je réponds, Je la réponds, Je lui réponds.

   He's thinking about our trip. He's thinking about it.
   Il pense à notre voyage. Il y pense.
   Wrong: Il pense, Il le pense, Il lui pense.

   You have to obey the law. You have to obey it.
   Tu dois obéir à la loi. Tu dois y obéir.
   Wrong: Tu dois obéir, Tu dois l'obéir, Tu dois lui obéir.

   Yes, I attended the meeting. Yes, I attended (it).
   Oui, j'ai assisté à la réunion. Oui, j'y ai assisté.
   Wrong: Oui, j'ai assisté, je l'ai assisté, je lui ai assisté.

   I'm going to think about your proposal. I'm going to think about it.
   Je vais réfléchir à votre proposition. Je vais y réfléchir.
   Wrong: Je vais réfléchir, Je vais la réfléchir, Je vais lui réfléchir.

*In most cases, à + person may only be replaced by an indirect object. However, in the case of verbs that don't allow preceding indirect object pronouns, you can use y:

   Pay attention to him.
   Fais attention à lui, Fais-y attention.
   Wrong: Fais-lui attention.


Note that y usually cannot replace à + verb.

   I hesitate to tell the truth. I hesitate to tell it.
   J'hésite à dire la vérité. J'hésite à la dire.
   Wrong: J'y hésite.

   I continue to read Balzac. I continue to read him.
   Je continue à lire Balzac. Je continue à le lire.
   Wrong: J'y continue.


Y is also found in the expressions il y a, on y va, and allons-y.


Test on y and en


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