Use the French Pronoun y to Replace Prepositional Phrases

The French pronoun y replaces a prepositional phrase that indicates location, like dans le garage (in the garage). Such phrases begin with a preposition, like at, under, in, and so on. Here’s how to proceed to replace this type of prepositional phrase with y:

  1. Find the phrase that’s introduced by the preposition.

    For example: Jeanne va à la plage. (Jeanne goes to the beach.)

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

    In this case, you’re left with Jeanne va.

  3. Add the pronoun y to the sentence.

    In most sentences, you place the pronoun before the conjugated verb, but exceptions exist. In this example, you wind up with Jeanne y va.

    Note: When the pronoun y is preceded by je, je changes to j’.

See y in action in the following examples:

Tu dormiras dans une tente. (You will sleep in a tent.) → Tu y dormiras.
Le chat est sous la table. (The cat is under the table.) → Le chat y est.
Nous allons au Québec. (We’re going to Quebec.) → Nous y allons.

A phrase beginning with the preposition de (from) can’t be replaced by the pronoun y, even if the phrase indicates place. (Instead, you use the pronoun en.) See this distinction in action in the following two examples:

Tu vas à la pharmacie. (You go to the pharmacy.) → Tu y vas.
Tu reviens de la pharmacie. (You’re coming back from the pharmacy.) → Tu en reviens.

The pronoun y is not used just to indicate location. Use it when you want to replace a phrase with the pattern [à + thing], as in: Je pense à mes vacances (I think about my vacation) → J’y pense.

The IOP is only used in the case of [à + person]! Here are some examples that show the difference between à + a person and à + a thing:

Je parle à mes amis. (I talk to my friends.) → Je leur parle. (I talk to them.)
Il obéit à son père. (He obeys his father.) → Il lui obéit. (He obeys him.)
Elle pense à ses vacances. (She thinks about her vacation.) → Elle y pense. (She thinks about it.)
Nous réfléchissons au problème. (We ponder/reflect on the problem.) → Nous y réfléchissons. (We ponder/reflect on it.)

When penser à is followed by a thing, use y, but when penser à is followed by a person, use the stress pronoun.

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