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.