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…”
Are you going to the cinema this evening? -No, I’m going (there) tomorrow
We’re going to eat at the restaurant. You want to go (there) with us?
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”).
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
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”
It’s also often used to talk about the weather:
- Besides, “Il y a” can also mean “ago” when it’s followed by a period of time:
- 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].
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 Blog French Course which focus on real life dialogues with audio recordings at slow and normal speed to speak French like a real French person.