Y en. (Not a French donkey.)

I hate y and en. These little words have caused so much confusion for me in French. The basic rules are:

1) y replaces a prepositional phrase (except those beginning with de). It translates as “there” or “it” and sometimes it is not translated into English.

On va à Boston demain. We’re going to Boston tomorrow.
On y va demain. We’re going there tomorrow.

Elle ne joue pas au foot ? She doesn’t play soccer?
Si, elle y joue ! Yes, she does!

2) en replaces de or any contraction of it as well as the noun that follows a number. It translates as “of/about it” or “of/about them” and sometimes it is not translated into English.

Il veut du lait. He wants some milk.
Il n’en veut pas. He doesn’t want any.

J’ai deux chiens. I have two dogs.
J’en ai deux. I have two (of them).

Neither one can replace a person. For example, Elle pense à lui cannot become Elle y pense. And both y and en are placed before the conjugated verb, like other pronouns, or after the imperative. This means you have to think quickly and figure out if you need to replace the prepositional phrase before you even say the verb. Sometimes word order in French is worse than in German…

But those are the overly simple examples that I always learned from grammar books. It’s much more complicated than that. One problem is with verbs followed by à or de before nouns. Either I forget that they require a preposition and so I don’t use y or en at all when I should. Or I throw in the y or en, but still use the prepositional phrase at the end. ::sigh:: I just can’t win.

French V Tutorial 90. Verbs followed by by à or de before infinitives or nouns

Il n’a pas besoin de l’ordinateur. He doesn’t need the computer.
Il n’en a pas besoin. He doesn’t need it.

Ils ont renoncé au tabac. They gave up tobacco.
Ils y ont renoncé. They gave it up.

Another problem is verbs that automatically use en or y. Sometimes I have no idea what prepositional phrase they’re replacing; you’re just always supposed to use the verb this way. And if you do forget the y or en, sometimes the verb changes its meaning and you’ll sound really stupid. (Notice that there are a lot of reflexive verbs in this category, another part of French grammar that drives me crazy. But I’ll save that for another day…)

s’y faire – to get used to
s’y prendre – to go about doing something
y arriver – to manage / to be able to do something
en vouloir (à quelqu’un) – to be mad / to hold a grudge (at/against someone)
en baver - to have a hard time doing something [Notice that baver means to drool!]
en venir – to get at / imply something
s’en sortir / s’en tirer - to manage in life / to make it (i.e. recover, survive)
s’en faire – to worry
s’en aller – to go away

And let’s not get s’y faire or s’en faire confused with se faire, which when followed by an infinitive means “to get oneself + past participle” : Tu vas te faire tuer. You’re going to get yourself killed.

And I get even more confused with verbs that require de, but also already have en before them! [David tells me this is not actually grammatically correct French, but this is the way that French people speak.]

en avoir marre de quelque chose – to be fed up with something
s’en fiche / s’en foutre de quelque chose - to not care about something

And the kicker? Verbs like these, which sometimes have opposite meanings!

s’en douter vs. douter: Je m’en doute means I imagine so; whereas j’en doute means I doubt it.

There are other examples of how one little sound changes the entire meaning in French. Yet another reason why I think French was invented as a cruel joke on foreigners trying to learn it.

Tu en veux ? vs. Tu m’en veux ?
Do you want some? vs. Are you mad at me?

And the cruelest one of all, which includes a vowel sound that doesn’t exist in English:

dessus vs. dessous
above vs. below

Seriously. That’s just mean.

P.S. If you didn’t get the title, just pronounce y and en together as one word… and you will be making the noise that a donkey makes in French (hihan instead of heehaw).

April (snow) showers

+-*I keep telling everybody that the weather in Annecy is gorgeous in April. “Don’t worry, last year it was sunny and 70.” “You won’t need warm clothes or an umbrella.” Ummm. This is what it looked like yesterday: Today it’s raining, but it still feels just as cold. And the forecast for the next 5 […]

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Goodbye Assistantship, Hello Unemployment

+-*Some good news finally. My car still isn’t fixed, but at least I only have 3 days of work left! I work Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and then my second year as an assistant will be over. Technically 7 month assistants work until April 30, but because of the 2 week break (April 12-27), that […]

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The one where Jennie finds out she’s self-employed.

+-*In the midst of trying to figure out my American income taxes, I discovered that I am considered “self-employed in a US business” thanks to the Google Ads on my website. Huh? I’m self-employed? But I don’t even make enough money to break even each month! I had thought my Google payments would just be […]

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Almost April

+-*Our internet was fixed Thursday night. I’m not sure how I managed to live without internet for 12 days, but I did get a lot of work done on my Lesson Plans page and French & German Comparative Tutorial. Some of my classes were cancelled yesterday because parents “sequestered” the teachers in the building as […]

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And it keeps getting better and better…

+-*RIP Renault Super 5. The garagiste said the entire motor needs to be replaced. That would cost more than the 1200 I paid for it. So now I’m out all those euros and an automatic car. I’m so frustrated and angry and just sad. I could barely afford that car, which took four months to […]

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Worst Week Ever

+-*Not a good way to start the weekend. So in addition to the no internet/TV/phone thing, I now have no car. It decided to overheat and leave me stranded on the highway Friday afternoon after I left work. And the weather gods wanted to make things worse, so they made it snow and rain all […]

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Another I hate France day.

+-*No internet for 36 hours chez nous!!! At least we figured out the problem is the ADSL line and not the Freebox. Unfortunately, the helpful customer service people at Free claim they can’t send a technician until NEXT WEDNESDAY. If France Telecom can’t fix it before then, I will be without internet for a while. […]

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Bon PACSiversaire

+-*Happy one year PACSiversary to us! Jij bent mijn hartendief.

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La langue française me rend folle.

+-*Sometimes there are certain aspects of the French language that drive me crazy. Verbs of movement is one example. French does not use adverbs of motion the same way that English does, so it is not possible to translate literally “He ran across the street” into French. Sure, you can say il a couru for […]

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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