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How to use the pronoun EN in French

EN is a pronoun, which means that it replaces a noun (or a nominal group). We use it a lot but it’s not always easy to figure out when and how to use it when you are not a native speaker.
In this article, I explain everything you need to know to use it well.

This lesson is long, so grab a seat and read this with all your attention 😉

The first thing you need to memorize with EN is that it’s used (most of the time) to replace a nominal group starting with DE.
Let’s see more precisely when.

The pronoun EN replaces the quantities

We use EN to replace a noun preceded with an expression of quantity.

With a partitive article

Je mange de la soupe > J’en mange.
Je mange du chocolat > J’en mange (DU = DE+LE)
Je fais de la danse > J’en fais
Je fais du sport > j’en fais

Yes I know it’s odd to use a partitive with the sports, but it’s a specificity of the verb FAIRE, learn more here.

With non precise quantities

En replaces non precises quantities introduced by words like :

des, beaucoup de, peu de, un peu de, trop de, moins de, plus de, autant de, assez de, suffisamment de,
plusieurs, quelques etc.

(Notice that most of them are built with DE.)

For example :

Fabrice mange des frites. > Il en mange.

J’ai trop de travail. > j’en ai trop.

J’ai assez de temps. > j’en ai assez.

J’ai quelques livres. > j’en ai quelques-uns.

J’ai quelques histoires. > j’en ai quelques-unes.

Notice that you need to repeat the quantity at the end, otherwise we would lose a piece of information.
“Quelques” is special, it becomes “quelques-uns” (masculin) and “quelques-une” (feminin) and means “some” or “a few”.

With precise quantities

En also replaces precise quantities introduced by expressions like :

Un verre, trois litres, deux paquets, cinq tablettes, une tranche, un morceau, une part, un carré, un pot, une bouteille, un tube etc.

For example :

Fabrice mange une part de tarte > Il en mange une part.

Fabrice boit un verre d’eau > Il en boit un verre.

Here again, don’t forget to repeat the quantity at the end.

With countable quantities

En also replaces quantities we can count, introduced by a number (1, 2, 3, 4 etc.) :

Fabien mange un sandwich > Il en mange un

Fabien mange une omelette > Il en mange une

J’ai deux enfants > jen ai deux

The pronoun EN replaces a place

EN replaces the place we come from :

Je viens du supermarché > J’en viens.

The pronoun EN replaces a noun following a verb built with the preposition DE

This is another use of EN.
To know when to use it, you need to know which verb is built with DE.
I know this not always easy when you are not a native speaker, but you get used to it with time.
Here are some examples of verbs :

avoir besoin de, avoir envie de, parler de,  s’occuper de, s’éloigner de, se rapprocher de, se préoccuper de, se servir de, se souvenir de …

Some sentences :

J’ai besoin de vacances  > j’en ai besoin.

Je vais m’occuper de ce problème plus tard > Je vais m’en occuper plus tard.

Je me sers toujours d’écouteurs quand je téléphone > Je m’en sers toujours quand je téléphone.

Je parle souvent de mon travail > J’en parle souvent.

Here I need to precise that if you are talking about people, you don’t use EN, you use

DE + the “pronom tonique”!

Don’t worry, I’ll give you some examples :

Je m’occupe de mes enfants. > Je m’occupe d’eux.

Je parle de ma voisine. > Je parle d’elle.

Je me souviens de mon grand-père. > Je me souviens de lui.

The “pronoms toniques” are :

moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles.

In my opinion, if you forget to use the “tonique pronom” here, and you use EN instead, it’s ok … Some French people also make this mistake 🙂 .

Position of EN

You’ve seen that EN is before the verb in the present form: j’en parle. It’s the case for all the tenses :

J’en parlerai (futur).
j’en ai parlé (passé-composé).
j’en parlais (imparfait)
etc.

EXCEPT
in the “futur proche“. With this tense, EN is in the middle :

Je VAIS en PARLER

And also with the modal verbs :

Je DOIS en PARLER.
Je VEUX en PARLER.
Je PEUX en PARLER.

Negation with EN

Now you’ve understood that, let’s add the negation to the sentences :

Je n’en parle pas.
Je n’en parlerai pas.
Je n’en ai pas parlé.
Je ne vais pas en parler.
Je ne dois pas en parler.

After reading these sentences we can summarize with these formulas :

PRESENT and all the simple tenses : 

Subject + NE + en + verb + PAS.

PASSE-COMPOSE and all the composed tenses (two parts) : 

Subject + NE + en + auxillary + PAS + past participle.

FUTUR PROCHE and the modal verbs : 

Subject + NE + MODAL + PAS + en + verb.

And don’t forget that NE becomes N’ before EN (it starts with a vowel).

EN and the imperative

If you want to use the imperative with EN, to say for example “Talk about it!” or “Eat some!” you will say :

Parles-en!
Manges-en!

En is after the verb, linked with “-“.
And with the negative form :

N’en parle pas ! (Don’t talk about it.)
N’en mange pas! (Don’t eat any.)

In conclusion

It’s not easy to use EN, but you get used to it with time. Try to make some sentences with it to practice.
I advise you to read the article talking about the pronoun Y, that you should not confuse with EN.

Work well and see you soon!
Elsa

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