y, en, or le/la/les/l' ? Watch

Angelil
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OK, I'm not doing a French degree, but this is something I want to know. I've got A Level French and so my formal tuition in French stopped when I was 18, but I'm still trying to gather as much information as possible as I'm still trying to attain fluency (I'm now 21 and do as much as I can in terms of reading books, listening to French radio etc, plus my boyfriend and his family are French!).

So here's the thing:

If you're trying to refer to an object that's already been mentioned in a sentence (or a paragraph, or a conversation...), how do you know whether to use en, y, or le (and its variants)? Is there a difference?

For example, if I was to say "I like it a lot" I'd say something like "je l'aime bien" because to use y or en just sounds wrong.
If I was to say "I'm certain of it", I'd use "j'en suis certain/e", as that's how my French teachers taught me to use that particular phrase, but I don't know if there's any actual reasoning behind it.
The only phrases where I know you definitely use y are in "il y a..." and "j'y vais" and phrases of similar ilk, again because I was taught that y=there, but I've seen y used to mean "it" and similar other meanings in books.

But how do you know when to use each one? You can't just keep guessing all the time, surely?
Any help would be much appreciated, as this one's been annoying me
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generalebriety
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In a sense:
y = à + le
en = de + le

That is, you can't say "je l'ai besoin", because you can't say "j'ai besoin un crayon", you have to say "j'ai besoin d'un crayon". So you say "j'en ai besoin". Same with y. You can't say "je le joue", because you can't say "je joue le foot", you have to say "je joue au foot", and consequently "j'y joue". (Or of course "j'en joue" if you're talking about an instrument, because you say "je joue de la guitare".)

They also have specialist meanings of their own: "y" means "there" (or "here"), as in "j'y vais" or "j'y suis"; "en" means "of it/them" or "about it/them", as in "Les bonbons? J'en ai 10" (I have 10 of them), "L'incident? Je n'en sais rien" (I know nothing about it), "j'en ai marre" (fed up of it). It's easy to see where these come from if you think of it in terms of à + noun (je suis à Paris - j'y suis) and de + noun (j'ai 2 kilos de sucre - j'en ai 2 kilos).

So basically, it's equivalent to working out which verbs and phrases take à (in which case use y), which take de (in which case use en), and which take a direct object (in which case use le/la/les).
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Angelil
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Thank you, that's very helpful

Are you doing French at university, or did you just have better A Level teachers than I did?!
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À la folie, pas du tout
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Also according to my grammar notes, 'y' can also mean 'to it', to them', for example:
Avez-vous ajoute les details de l'assurance-automobile au dossier? Oui, j'y ai ajoute aussi le nom, l'adresse de la blessee. - Have you added the details of the car insurance to the file? Yes, I have also added the name and address of the injured person to it.

And there are a few idiomatic uses of y:
Je n'y suis pour rien. - It's got nothing to do with me.
Elle s'y connait en ordinaters. - She's an expert on computers.
Pourriez-vous m'apporter le texte de la conference? Je n'y manquerai pas. - I certainly will. (Literally - I won't fail in it.)

(Sorry for lack of accents!)
Hope that helps a bit, with y at least! (en and y and les and leur and everything confuses me too sometimes, I don't blame you! :confused:)
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generalebriety
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(Original post by Angelil)
Thank you, that's very helpful

Are you doing French at university, or did you just have better A Level teachers than I did?!
Hmm. I certainly had more grammar-orientated teachers. :p: I'm not at uni yet, and when I am at uni I'm not doing French. :p:
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