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Use the French Pronoun En to Replace Prepositional Phrases

The French Pronoun en can be used to replace many prepositional phrases that begin with de (which means of, from, and more depending on the prepositional phrase).

French indefinite determiners

Indefinite determiners include the plural indefinite article des (some); the partitives du, de la, de l’ (some/any); and de (which takes the place of those articles after a negative verb). The following examples show you different types of articles being replaced by en.

Nous mangeons du fromage. (We eat [some] cheese.) → Nous en mangeons. (We eat some.)
Tu as de la chance. (You have luck.) → Tu en as. (You have some.)
Elle ne veut pas de chien. (She doesn’t want a dog.) → Elle n’en veut pas. (She doesn’t want one.)

To replace this type of phrase, proceed like this:

  1. Find the phrase that is introduced by the indefinite determiner:

    For example, Paul a des enfants. (Paul has some kids.)

  2. Remove the entire quantity phrase:

    In this case, you’re left with Paul a.

  3. Place the pronoun en properly in the sentence.

    In most sentences, you place the pronoun before the conjugated verb, but exceptions exist. In this example, you wind up with Paul en a.

De + a thing with certain verbs

When certain verbs are followed by a non-human object, you use the pronoun en to replace the whole phrase. For example, when using the verb avoir peur de (to be afraid of), j’ai peur de l’orage (I am afraid of the storm) becomes j’en ai peur (I am afraid of it).

Following are some common verbs of this type and their English equivalents. The noun you’re referring to (or simply quelque chose [something]) comes after each phrase:

  • avoir besoin de (to need)

  • avoir envie de (to want)

  • avoir peur de (to be afraid of)

  • entendre parler de (to hear of)

  • [être + adjective] de ([to be + adjective] of)

  • jouer de (to play [an instrument])

  • parler de (to talk about)

  • profiter de (to take advantage of/to enjoy)

  • s’occuper (to take care of)

  • se servir de (to utilize)

  • se souvenir de (to remember)

To replace this type of de phrase, proceed like for the object pronoun y when it replaces à + non-human object: Remove the whole prepositional phrase including de and replace it with en, and then place it into the sentence. Here are a few examples.

Bébé a peur de la nuit. (Baby is afraid of the night.) → Bébé en a peur. (Baby is afraid of it.)
Il profite de ses vacances pour se reposer. (He takes advantage of his vacation to rest up.) → Il en profite pour se reposer. (He takes advantage of it to rest up.)

If the verb is pronominal, such as se souvenir de (to remember), then en must follow the reflexive pronoun and me, te, and se (only those three) change to m’, t’, and s’. For example: Il s’en souvient. (He remembers it.)

The de phrase must refer to a thing, not a person. If it is de + person, you can’t replace it with en, and you have to resort to a stress pronoun, as illustrated here

Bébé a besoin de sa mère. (Baby needs his mother.) → Bébé a besoin d’elle. (Baby needs her.)

A prepositional phrase that starts with de

When de expresses from, as in Les athlètes rentrent de Londres (The athletes return home from London), use the pronoun en to replace that whole phrase: Les athlètes en rentrent.

To replace this type of de prepositional phrase, proceed like this:

  1. Find the phrase that is introduced by de.

    For example, Nous faisons partie de cette équipe. (We are part of this team.)

  2. Remove the entire prepositional phrase, including de itself.

    In this case, you wind up with Nous faisons partie.

  3. Replace the prepositional phrase with the pronoun en and place it properly in the sentence.

    In most sentences, you place the pronoun before the conjugated verb, but exceptions exist. In this example, your sentence is Nous en faisons partie. (We are part of it.)

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