Pronouns are short words that can replace or stand in for other words. There are three French pronouns that I consider absolutely awesome because they are very useful and can be used in so many ways. The three are “on”, “en” and “y.” Here’s a link to my post for “on”.
These French pronouns are tricky for speakers of English because there is nothing really comparable in English. So, these pronouns tend to be ignored and not used as they should. But once you learn how to use them, you’ll hear them everywhere and especially in the real-life examples of this blog.
In today ‘s post, I want to look at “en” that most readers have already seen and used to some extent because it is so common. But first, let’s not mix up the pronoun “en” of “Je vous en prie” (You’re welcome) with the preposition “en” (in) that we use in “en France” (in France) or “mettre en doute” (to put in doubt).
In part 1 of this post, we’ll first review the basic uses of “en,” In part 2 we’ll move on to some sophisticated uses that are useful for fine nuances and for showing off your knowledge of French.
The basics of the pronoun “en”
One common use of “en” is to refer to a place or location (“from there”) with the verbs like “arriver” (to arrive), “partir” (leave) and “venir” (to come). Here are some examples:
Je suis allé à New York avant-hier et j’en arrive à l’instant.
I went to New York and I’m arriving at this very moment.
Ma sœur est allée faire des courses en ville; elle en vient.
My sister went shopping in town; she’s just come back.
Je n’ai pas beaucoup de souvenirs du village; j’en suis parti à l’âge de cinq ans.
I don’t have many memories of the village; I left when I was five years old.
In the above examples, it’s quite debatable whether the “en” adds much more than a stylistic touch.
Now let’s look at the most common use of “en,” We’ll jump right in with some example dialogues that show how “en” is used. Note that it is always in front of the verb. Here is a piece of dialogue that you would use when buying tickets for a show or an event at the box office or over the telephone:
– Avez-vous des billets pour ce soir ? (Do you have tickets for this evening ?)
– Oui, j’en ai encore. Combien en voulez-vous ? (Yes, I do. How many do you want?)
– Vous en avez à quels prix ? (At what prices do you have?)
– J’en ai à 10 et à 20 euros/dollars. (I have some à 10 and at 20 euros/dollars.)
– Bien, donnez m’en deux à 20 euros/dollars. (Good, give me two at 20 euros/dollars.)
For variety, here’s another version of this same dialogue but using the impersonal form of the verb “rester” (to remain):
– Est-ce qu’il vous reste des billets pour ce soir ? (Are there any tickets left for this evening?)
– Oui, il m’en reste quelques-uns. Vous en voulez combien ? (Yes, I still have some left. How many do you want?)
– Il vous en reste à quels prix ? (At what prices are they available?)
– Il m’en reste à 10 et à 20 euros/dollars. (I have some at 10 and at 20 euros/dollars.)
– Très bien, j’en prendrai deux à 20 euros/dollars. (Fine, I’ll take two of them at 20 euros/dollars.)
It is quite clear that in these examples that the pronoun “en” refers to “des billets” that is mentioned just once. That is exactly what a pronoun does. You also see in the translation that English can use “some” or “of them” as an equivalent but generally renders the meaning differently. For example, “Oui, j’en ai encore” becomes “Yes, I do.”
The key to understanding how “en” works is the “des” in “des billets.” This is a form of what is called the determiner “de.” Other forms are “du”, “de la” and “de l'”. They are used with nouns to define indefinite quantities. This is what is called the partitive construction that I treat in a blog post. All of this to say that when a noun has one of these determiners in front, then “en” can be used subsequently to refer to this noun. Let’s see some examples.
– Qui veut du gateau? (Who wants cake?)
– Moi, j’en veux. (I do.)
– J’aime beaucoup faire de la course à pied; j’en fais tous les jours. (I love to run; I run every day.)
– Je vous sers de l’eau ? (Would you care for some water?)
– Non merci, j’en ai déjà. (No thanks, I already have.)
– Est-ce qu’il y avait des gens ? (Were there lots of people?)
– Oui, il y en avait beaucoup. (Yes, there were,)
– Qui est responsable de ce dossier ? (Who is in charge of this case?)
– Julien en est responsable. (Julien is.)
What you may also have noticed is that the verbs that use “en” in front are verbs that are followed by the preposition “de”. Here are some common verbs used without and with “en”
Je veux du vin. (I want some wine)
J’en veux. (I want some.)
Elle ne demande plus d’argent. (She’s no longer asking for money.)
Elle n’en demande plus. (She’s no longer asking.)
Que pensez-vous de cette histoire ? (What do you think about this story.)
Qu’en pensez-vous ? (What do you make of this?)
Nous ne savons rien de l’accident. (We don’t know anything about the accident.)
Nous n’en savons rien. (We know nothing about this.)
Elles sont contentes de leur choix. (They are very happy with their choice.)
Elles en sont contentes. (They are very happy with it.)
Elle est la maman de ce garçon. (She is the mother of the boy.)
Elle en est la maman. (She is his mother.)
This leads us to look at the large list of those verbs that are followed by the preposition “de” when connecting to nouns or verbs. I looked at these verbs in a blog post on connecting two verbs. Here is a partial list of these verbs:
accepter, accuser, achever, admettre. arrêter, charger, cesser, se charger, choisir, commander, conseiller, se contenter, défendre, décider, demander, empêcher, éviter, finir, se hâter, s’indigner, informer, interdire, jurer, se mêler, menacer, négliger, s’occuper, omettre, se souvenir, suggérer, etc.
Not all of these verbs work with “en”, but here are some that do:
Tu te chargeras du reste. (You’ll take care of the remainder.)
Tu t’en chargeras. (You’ll take care of them.)
Ils ont commandé deux voitures. (They ordered two cars.)
Ils en ont commandé deux. (They ordered two of them.)
Elle ne peut s’empêcher de boire. (She can’t stop drinking.)
Elle ne peut s’en empêcher. (She can’t stop (drinking).).
Il ne m’a pas informé de la décision. (He didn’t tell me about the decision.)
Il ne m’en a pas informé. (He didn’t tell me about it.)
Je m’occupe du dossier. (I’m in charge of this case.)
Je m’en occupe. (I’m taking care of it.)
Elle se mêle de mes affaires. (She’s meddling in my affairs.)
Elle s’en mêle. (She’s meddling.)
More complex uses of the pronoun “en”
Using the basics as a starting point, we can make more complex constructions. Often this is used for stylistic variation. Here is a common form where the noun being referred to is at the front of the same sentence:
Ce voyage, je m’en souviens encore / Je me souviens encore de ce voyage. (I stiil remember this trip.)
Des livres, j’en ai lu beaucoup. / J’ai lu beaucoup de livres. (I’ve read a lot of books.)
In spoken French the noun can even be put after the verb:
J’en ai connu, moi, des petits voyous comme toi.
I’ve met a lot of little bums like you.
Je n’en sais rien, de vos histoires, et ça ne m’intéresse pas. Je n’en ai rien à foutre.
I don’t know anything about your affairs, and I’m not interested. I don’t give a damn.
Remember that in rapid speech the “ne” will most certainly be dropped, and the last example would become:
J’en sais rien, de vos histoires, et ça m’intéresse pas. J’en ai rien à foutre.
You will hear a lot of those forms in thriller movies or television police shows.
You have probably noticed by now that the French pronoun “en” is used very often where English uses nothing at all or maybe “some” or “some of it/them.” This is why English-speakers tend to under-utilize “en” in French. Pay special attention and you’ll notice that it is very commonly used in French. In the next blog post, we’ll look at some quite sophisticated ways of using “en.”
Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician and language coach in French, English and Spanish. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Language Wall Chart Calendar that is based on his own learning experience. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.