En” is one of the most important word in French. It can either be a preposition, or a pronoun (in which case it has no English equivalent).

 

En” as a preposition

When “en” is a preposition, it’s almost always used directly in front of a noun with no article, or after certain verbs:

1)  For a destination or a location:

Il habite en France > He lives in France
Mon frère est en prison > My brother is in prison

 

2)  For a point in time:

Je suis né en Avril > I was born in April
Elles reviendront en automne > They will come back in autumn

 

3)  For a duration of time:

C’est la distance que la lumière parcourt en un an > It’s the distance light travels in a year
Je peux faire mon lit en 5 secondes > I can make my bed in 5 seconds

 

4)  For a means (of transport most of the time):

Vous voyagez en avion > You travel by plane
Elle va à Tokyo en voiture > She goes to Tokyo by car

 

5)  To describe what a thing is made of:

Un collier en diamant > A diamond necklace
Une maison en bois > A wooden house

 

6)  With a gerund (often to describe a manner):

Ils arrivent en courant > They arrive running
J’ai sauté de l’avion en criant > I jumped from the plane shouting

 

7)  For an appearance, a characteristic, a condition:

On est en vacances > We are in holydays
Tu es en bonne santé > You are in good health

 

8)  For a “transformation”:

Je me déguise en chien > I disguise myself as a dog
Je dois traduire ce texte en français > I have to translate this text into French

 

En” as a pronoun

A pronoun means that “en” replaces a noun. The problem is to know when to choose “en” because there are many other pronouns in French which are used depending on the way the noun is being used.

For “en”, you have to understand two main points:

1) “En” replaces a noun with a notion of quantity.

This quantity is introduced

  • either by a number:
Je vais prendre 3 croissants s’il-vous-plaît > I’ll take 3 croissants please
Je vais en prendre 3 s’il-vous-plaît > I’ll take 3 (of them) please
Il a vu 2 chiens dehors > He has seen 2 dogs outside
Il en a vu 2 dehors > He has seen 2 (of them) outside
  • or by the article “de or d’ ” (and its variants “de l’, du, des, de la”) for unspecified quantities:
Je bois de l’eau > I’m drinking water
J’en bois > I’m drinking (of it)
Vous mangez du fromage > You are eating cheese
Vous en mangez > You are eating (of it)
Ils ont des enfants > They have children
Ils en ont > They have some
Tu as beaucoup de chance > You are very lucky (You have a lot of luck)
Tu en as beaucoup > (You have a lot of it)

Note that if there is a number, an adverb of quantity, or an expression of quantity, you must repeat it when you use “en”.

J’ai un chat > I have a cat
J’en ai un > I have one
J’ai très peu d’argent > I have very little money
J’en ai très peu > I have little of it
J’ai bu un verre de vin > I drank a glass of wine
J’en ai bu un verre > I drank a glass of it

Remember that “pas” (of the negation) is also considered a quantity (zero), so you also have to say it.

Je ne bois pas d’alcool > I don’t drink alcohol
Je n’en bois pas > I don’t drink (of it)

 

2) “En” replaces an inanimate noun (not a person) introduced by a verb followed by the preposition “de” (not a quantity here).

Je me souviens de cette montagne > I remember this mountain
Je m’en souviens > I remember it
Je parle de mes vacances > I’m talking about my holidays
J’en parle > I’m talking about it
Il sait jouer du piano > He knows how to play piano
Il sait en jouer > He knows how to play (of it)

There are many verbs which often use the preposition “de” in French (like “se souvenir de”, “parler de” or “jouer de”). You can check them out in this article about the preposition “de to practice making sentences with the pronoun “en”.

Remember, when the noun introduces a person, you must use a stress pronoun instead of “en”:  moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles

Je ne me souviens pas de ton père > I don’t remember your father
Je ne me souviens pas de lui > I don’t remember him

 

Additional notes:

  • Here’s a few common expressions using “en”:

Je m’en vais > I’m leaving  (verb: “s’en aller”)

Je m’en fiche > I don’t care  (“Je m’en fous” is more vulgar, but more commonly used between friends…)

J’en ai marre > I’m tired/sick of it  (verb: “en avoir marre”)

Ne t’en fais pas > Don’t worry  (verb: “ne pas s’en faire”)

 

  • As “en” is very often used by French people, it’s also subject to many “glidings” (“enchaînements” in French). In addition, its letter “n” at the end also creates many liaisons which makes it even more confusing for English speakers.

For example, the sentence:

 Il n’y en a pas > There are none / There isn’t any

is often pronounced

[yan na pa].

 

The best way to learn these expressions, pronunciations and all these grammar rules is in the context of an everyday life dialogue. That’s why I strongly recommend you check the Blog French Course which focus on real life dialogues with audio recordings at slow and normal speed to master today’s spoken French.

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