This pronoun is so small that you might think it’s not very important in a sentence, but you would be wrong. In fact, “y” is one of the most important word in French. It works a bit like his friend the pronoun “en”. Fortunately, “y” can only be a pronoun (meaning it replaces a noun), unlike “en” which can also be a preposition.
When “y” is a pronoun, you have to understand two main points:
1) “y” replaces a place
In general, “y” replaces a place previously mentioned or implied. It is usually translated as “there” in English.
This place is usually introduced by a preposition of place: “à, sur, au, en, sous, chez, dans…”
Tu vas au cinéma ce soir ? -Non, j’y vais demain
Are you going to the cinema this evening? -No, I’m going (there) tomorrow
On va manger au restaurant. Tu veux y aller avec nous ?
We’re going to eat at the restaurant. You want to go (there) with us?
Simon est allé chez Paul. Il y est allé avec Victor
Simon went to Paul’s house. He went (there) with Victor
Notice that in English, you usually don’t say “there”, but in French you must say “y”. You cannot say only “Je vais” in French. There has to be a place mentioned, or the pronoun “y” replacing it.
2) “y” replaces an inanimate noun (not a person) introduced by a verb followed by the preposition “à” (and its variants: “au, aux à l’, à la”).
Je joue à Warcraft tous les jours > I play Warcraft every day
J’y joue tous les jours > I play every day (of it)
Il croit aux fantômes > He believes in ghosts
Il y croit > He believes in it
Tu penses à la joie qu’il te donnera > You are thinking about the joy he will give you
Tu y penses > You are thinking about it
There are many verbs which often use the preposition “à” in French (like “jouer à”, “croire à” or “penser à”). You can check them out in this article about the preposition “à” to practice making sentences with the pronoun “y”.
Remember, when the noun is a person, you must use a stress pronoun instead of “y”: moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles
Je pense à ma mère > I’m thinking about my mother
Je pense à elle > I’m thinking about her
Additional notes: the expression “Il y a”
It’s quite a weird expression which is frequently used in French.
- Most of the time, it indicates the existence of something and hence is translated as “There is or There are”
Il y a des chiens dans le jardin > There are dogs in the garden
Il n’y a pas de problème > There is no problem
It’s also often used to talk about the weather:
Il y a du soleil aujourd’hui > It’s sunny today
Il y aura du vent demain > It’ll be windy tomorrow
- Besides, “Il y a” can also mean “ago” when it’s followed by a period of time:
Jésus est né il y a 2000 ans > Jesus was born 2000 years ago
Ils sont arrivés il y a 6 mois > They arrived 6 months ago
- In everyday life, when French people say “Il y a”, they say it very fast. They remove the “Il” and they glide over the pronunciation making it sound like [ya].
Il y a du vent [ya dù vã] > It’s windy
Il n’y pas de problème [ya pad problêm] > There is no problem
The best way to learn the pronunciation of today’s real spoken French is in the context of an everyday life dialogue. That’s why I strongly recommend you check the BlogFrench Course which focus on real life dialogues with audio recordings at slow and normal speed to speak French like a real French person.