How to use the pronoun Y in French

Y is a pronoun. That means 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 so that you can use it well.

I also advise you to read the article about the pronoun EN. These two pronouns are very similar in the way they work and it’s good to compare them. I’ll give you the link at the end of this page.

So let’s start.
The first thing you need to know with Y is that it’s used (most of the time) to replace a nominal group starting with A.
When I say A, I include AU and AUX because they are contractions :
AU = A + LE

The pronoun Y replaces a place

We use Y to replace a noun that expresses the place we are in or the place we go.
– Not the place we come from! In that case, it’s EN –

Je suis à la plage > J’y suis.
Tu vas au cinéma > Tu y vas.

It’s different from :
Je viens de la plage > J’en viens.
Tu pars du cinéma > Tu en pars.

We can have other prepositions expressing the place: sous, sur, dans, à côté … We also use Y in these cases.

Le chat est sous le lit > Il y est.
Le stylo est sur la table > Il y est.

The pronoun Y replaces a noun following a verb built with the preposition A

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

penser à, réfléchir à,  songer à,  renoncer à, adhérer à, s’inscrire à, être favorable à, être ouvert à, être réceptif à, être opposé à, s’opposer à, faire attention à, se joindre à, se fier à, tenir à , s’accoutumer à, s’habituer à, se faire à, s’accrocher à, s’appuyer à, se tenir à, s’adresser à, s’intéresser à, se référer à etc.

Some sentences :

Je pense à mes vacances  > j’y pense.

J’ai renoncé à acheter cette maison > J’y ai renoncé.

Je m’habitue à ta présence chez moi > Je m’y habitue.

Le singe s’accroche à cette branche > Il s’y accroche.

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

A + the “pronom tonique”!

Here are some examples :

Je m’adresse à mes enfants. > Je m’adresse à eux.

Je me joins à vous.

Je pense à ma mère. > Je pense à elle.

The “pronoms toniques” are :

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

Be careful

Unfortunately, I have to tell you that the rule above does not apply to ALL the verbs with the preposition A.
For some verbs, instead of using Y, we need to use the INDIRECT PRONOUN: Lui (singular) / LEUR (plural).

For example :

J’écris à ma mère > Je lui écris.
Nous téléphonons à nos parents. > Nous leur téléphonons.

Here are some verbs like that :

parler à, manquer à, sourire à, plaire à, écrire à, téléphoner à, dire à, envoyer à, expédier à, expliquer à, faire confiance à, répondre à, répéter à, transmettre à, enseigner à, interdire à, demander à, proposer à, suggérer à, montrer à, conseiller à, prêter à, emprunter à, acheter à, donner à, offrir à, interdire à, prendre à, vendre à , voler à, lancer à.

You can notice that almost all these verbs are related to communication and exchange.

Position of Y

If you’ve read the article about EN, you’ll notice that it is the same position.
You’ve seen that Y is before the verb in the present form: j’y pense.
It’s the case for all the tenses :

J’y penserai (futur).
j’y ai pensé (passé-composé).
j’y pensais (imparfait)

in the “futur proche”. With this tense, Y is in the middle :


And also with the modal verbs :


Negation with Y

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

Je n’y pense pas.
Je n’y penserai pas.
Je n’y ai pas pensé.
Je ne vais pas y penser.
Je ne dois pas y penser.

After reading these sentences we can summarize with these formulas :

PRESENT and all the simple tenses : 

Subject + NE + y + verb + PAS.

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

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

FUTUR PROCHE and the modal verbs : 

Subject + NE + MODAL + PAS + y + verb.

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

Y and the imperative

If you want to use the imperative with Y, to say for example “Think about it!” or “Go there!” you will say :

Penses-y !
Vas-y !

You pronounce the final -s- as a -z-

And with the negative form :

N’y pense pas ! (Don’t think about it.)
N’y vas pas! (Don’t go there.)

In conclusion

It’s not easy to use Y, but you get used to it with time. Try to make some sentences with it to practice.
Don’t forget to read the article about EN, to compare the two pronouns.

Work well and see you soon!

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”en vs y”]