How To Use That Awesome French Pronoun EN – Part 2

In the previous blog post, we saw the basic uses of the French pronoun “en” to replace a noun or, generally speaking,  something that has been mentioned previously. This something is what grammarians call the antecedent. Here are some examples:

J’adore le chocolat et j’en mange beaucoup.
I love chocolate and I eat a lot of it.
Il fait beau aujourd’hui; profitez-en.
The weather is nice today; enjoy it while you can.

Here is something that you will see on websites:
En savoir plus (Find out more)

These uses are quite straightforward and should be familiar by now. Things become complicated, however, when there is no clear antecedent for the “en.” This is the realm of many idiomatic expressions and fine nuances that are very useful and also indicative of a high-level mastery of French.

In this post, I want to look at a few of these sophisticated expressions that combine “en” with some of the most common verbs of the French language,

1. With “être”

1.1. Le festival de jazz en est à sa 35e édition cette année.
The jazz festival is celebrating it’s 35th anniversary this year.

In this example, it’s not clear at all what the “en” refer to. In my opinion, “en” helps simply to convey the notion or time, sequence or duration. Consider the following examples:

Elle en est à sa deuxième année comme présidente du conseil d’administration.
This is her second year as president of the board of directors.
L’accusé n’en est pas à ses premiers méfaits.
This is not the first time that the defendant has gotten into trouble.

1.2. C’est un film qui a plu à certaines personnes et j’en étais.
It’s a film that some people liked, and I was one of them,

In this example, the “en” refers to “certaines personnes.” In this usage, “en être” means “to be a member or part of.” You’ll often see this construction used in the news when referring to sports. Here are some more examples:

La Coupe du monde de la Fifa 2014, le Canada veut en être.
Canada intends to be in the Fifa 2014 World Cup games.
Pour les prochains jeux olympiques, j’en serai.
I’ll be there, in the next Olympic games.

1.3. On ne cache rien. Voilà ce qu’il en est, tout est là.
We’re not hiding anything. This is the situation. All the facts are there.

Here, “ce qu’il en est” says that we are talking about the current state of a situation. Other examples are:

Dites-nous exactement ce qu’il en est.
Tells us what the situation is.
Pour l’instant, on ne sait pas ce qu’il en est.

For the time being, we don’t really know what’s happening.

1.4. Où en êtes-vous dans ce dossier?
What’s the status in this file? / How are you doing?

Here ” où en être” refers to the progression or evolution of something. Here are some more examples:

Vous en êtes où dans le projet?

How are you doing with the project?
Une chose à la fois. On n’en est pas encore là.
One thing at a time. We’re not there yet.

1.5. C’est vraiment triste. Il en est à mendier dans la rue.
It’s really sad. He is reduced to begging in the street.

In this example, “en être à” is an idiom for “to have reached a certain point.” Here are some more examples:

J’en suis à me demander s’il vaut la peine de continuer.
I’ve reached a point where I’m wondering if I should continue.
Nous en sommes à demander de l’argent parce que la situation est grave.
We have to ask for money because the sitution is serious.

1.6. Il n’en a rien été, (It did not happen / Nothing came of it.)

When something is supposed to have been done or take place but nothing happens, you would use this idiom. Here are some more examples.

Il devait nous envoyer de l’argent, mais il n’en a rien été.
He was supposed to send us some money. Nothing came of it.
Je m’attendais à détester ce film. Il n’en a rien été. Au contraire, je l’ai adoré.
I thought I would hate this movie, It wasn’t the case. In fact, I loved it.

2. With “avoir”

2.1. Tu m’attends, j’en ai pour deux minutes.
Wait for me, it will just take two minutes.

This is a very common expression where the “en” refers to nothing specific, but the whole thing means “to take time.” Here are some more examples:

Ça ne sera pas très long, elle en a pour cinq minutes.
It won’t be long. She’ll be done in five minutes.
Vous en avez pour longtemps ?
Are you going to be long?

2.2. Là, j’en ai assez ! Assez, c’est assez !
I’ve had enough! Enough is enough!

When you’re really fed up and you’ve had enough of a situation, this is what you would say. Here are some other variations that mean nearly the same thing:

J’en ai marre !
J’en ai plein le dos !
J’en ai ma claque !
J’en ai ras le bol !

These expressions are used most commonly in the first person and in the present tense, as here, but they can be heard in the third person and sometimes in the past tense.

2.3.Elle ne me parle plus; elle en a contre/après moi.
She doesn’t speak to me any more; she’s angry with me.

If you want to say that you are angry or irritated with someone, you could use “en avoir contre” or “en avoir après..”

2.4. Vous en aurez plein la vue grâce à nos paysages spectaculaires.

You will be dazzled by the spectacular landscapes.

If you see something so spectacular that you are left nearly blind, then “vous en avez plein la vue.” Note that the expression does not say “..pleine la vue” as one might expect.

2.5. Les prix sont bons dans ce magasin, vous en aurez pour votre argent.
This store has good prices. You’ll get your money’s worth.

“En avoir pour son argent” is a great way of saying “to get one’s money’s worth.” Here’s are more examples:

Vraiment, j’en ai eu pour mon argent.
I really got my money’s worth.)
Le spectacle a duré trois heures. On en a eu pour notre argent.
The show lasted three hours. It was worth every penny.

2.6. C’est un resto pas cher, vous en aurez pour à peu près 25 dollars tout compris.

It’s an inexpensive restaurant, it should cost you about 25 dollars everything included.

This idiom resembles the previous one a lot. Here you are saying what the person should expect to pay.

2.7. Je l’ai appelé pour en avoir le cœur net.

I called him to clear my mind.

Here a clean heart “le cœur net” means to know exactly what to expect. This is not to be confused with “getting something off your chest” which would be “dire ce qu’on a sur le cœur.” Here is an another example:

Pour en avoir le cœur net, communiquez avec votre médecin de famille.
To find out for sure, please call your family doctor.

3. With “pouvoir”

3.1. Vraiment. Je n’en peux plus. Trop, c’est trop.
That’s it. I can’t take it any more. This is too much.

Like “J’en ai assez.”, this expression is used to say that you can’t do any more or that you’ve reached your limit.

4. With “faire”

4.1. Il ne faut pas s’en faire.
There’s not point getting upset.

This is a very useful idiom. It’s usually used in the negative form. Here are some more examples:

Je ne m’en faisais pas avec cette histoire.
I didn’t let this get to me.
Il a beaucoup perdu à la bourse, mais il ne s’en fait pas beaucoup.
He lost a lot on the stock market, but doesn’t seem too converned.

4.2. Tu ne vas pas t’ennuyer avec lui. Il va t’en faire voir.
You won’t be bored. He’ll make it hard for you.

There’s a very common variation of this idiom:

Elle m’en a fait voir de toutes les couleurs.
She really made life difficult for me.

5. With “vouloir”

5.1.Elle m’en veut pour une raison que j’ignore.
She’s out to get me for a reason I don’t understand.

“en vouloir à quelqu’un” is to hold a grudge or dislike someone. Here is a form that you will hear especially in speeches where the speaker is about to thank various individuals:

Je m’en voudrais de ne pas remercier toutes les personnes qui ont collaboré dans l’élaboration de ce spectacle.
I would now like to thank all those people qui helped put this show together.

6. With “aller”

6.1. Je m’en vais dans cinq minutes.
I’ll be leaving in five minutes.

The verb “s’en aller” is very common and translates as “go away” or “leave.” Remember that the imperative forms are:

Va-t-en ! (Go way! – informal singular)
Allez-vous-en ! (Go away! – formal singular / plural or informal plural)

7. With “venir”

7.1. Attendez-moi, je m’en viens.
Wait for me, I’ll be right there.

The verb “s’en venir” is common in Quebec but rare in France. It is the opposite of “s’en aller.” Compared to “venir” by itself, “s’en venir” has a sense of “coming right away or right now.”

8. With “passer”

8.1. Comme vous pouvez voir, il nous a fait des coups bas. Et j’en passe.
As you can see, he has played some dirty tricks on un. And I could go on.

This is a neat expression when you a reading off an incomplete list of things (often but not always negative) that a person has done. A common variation is:

J’en passe, et des meilleurs.
The list goes on, and gets better.

9. With “prendre”

9.1 L’avocat de la défense s’en est pris à la crédibilité du témoin.
The lawyer for the defence attacked the credibility of the witness.

“S’en prendre à” is to attack verbally.

10. With “juger”

10.1. À en juger par sa performance hier soir, la chanteuse aura une belle carrière devant elle.
Judging by her performance last night, the singer has an excellent career ahead of her.

This is an elegant way of using “en” to refer to “la chanteuse.”

11. With “croire”

11.1. À en croire les témoins, l’accident n’a pas été causé par la météo.
If we are to believe the witnesses, the accident was not caused by the weather.

This could have also been translated by “According to the witnesses…”, but “À en croire…” adds a slight element of doubt.

The next step: using the French pronoun “en”

There are other uses of “en” that space does not allow me to cover. Most of these other constructions with “en” are more literary and rarely used in the spoken language. I may return to the topic in a later post. For the time being, the material presented here should keep you busy for a while.

As you have seen, there is a lot one can do with “en” beyond the basics of just replacing a specific antecedent. Some of these uses, like “s’en aller” and “s’en venir” are very common. After reading this post, you should start hearing things like “On en est où ?” (What’s the situation like?) very common in the media. Others, like “il en est à..” or “à en croire…”, are rather sophisticated and less common.

The next step is to start using these more complex constructions in your speech where appropriate. I favour a deliberate approach where you try to use a specific construction a few times during the day. Some will be easier to use than others, of course, but you should try to create or seek out situations where you can plug in some of these “en.”

Like all the features of French, or any language, the key to learning the pronouns is repetition. If you use a form often enough, it will become second nature. You’ll suddenly start hearing it more often, and in no time these various uses of the pronoun “en” will be rolling off your tongue.

Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician, language coach in French, English and Spanish, language workshop facilitator and organizer of French-English conversation meetups in Montreal, Canada. 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 Essential French Wall Chart Calendar. Reach him at

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