French The Expression "there is" "there are"

Beginner French - Level A1


The French expression il y a, which can mean "there is" or "there are", is one of the most important expressions in the French language. It is most commonly followed by an indefinite article + noun, a number + noun, or an indefinite pronoun. To ask a question with il y a, you can either use est-ce que or inversion. To use il y a in a negative construction, place n' (why not ne?) in front of y and pas after a. Remember that the indefinite article must change to de due to the negative construction.

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Il y a - There is/are

The French expression Il y a means “There is” or “There are.” It can also express [a certain amount of time] “ago.”

In separate parts, the expression il y a does not add up to the meaning that it has all together.

Il - subject pronoun for “it”

y - adverbial pronoun for “there”

a - third person singular conjugation of avoir meaning “has”

Using Il y a  in statements

Il y a une faute avec votre billet.                     Il y a + indefinite article + noun

There is a mistake with your ticket.


Il y a quinze joueurs dans l’équipe.                Il y a + number + noun

There are 15 players on the team.


Il y a beaucoup de vols ce soir.                      Il y a  + indefinite adjective/pronoun

There are a lot of flights tonight.



Il ny a pas de….                                             There isn’t any/There aren’t any…



  • The letter a, or the third person singular version of avoir, acts as the “verb” of the expression. The “ne” and the “pas” in the negation version of the expression sandwich the a in addition to the adverbial pronoun, y.
  • To express this phrase in a different tense (i.e. There were... or There will be…), you must conjugate the third component, avoir (or a) to fit the desired verb tense. We will learn these conjugations of avoir in a later module.
  • Remember when you negate a sentence, the indefinite article will always change to de. See A1.1 Module 7 to review indefinite articles.

Using Il y a in questions

Est-ce quil y a                    Is it that there is/are…

Y a-t-il                                  Are/Is there...

Quest-ce quil y a?                What’s wrong?


Expressing “ago”

The French equivalent of expressing “ago,” is when the phrase Il y a is followed by a period of time.

La famille a voyagé en Espagne il y a neuf mois.


The family traveled to Spain nine months ago.

Il y a 7 ans, j’ai reçu mon diplôme.


Seven years ago, I received my diploma..

Les professeurs se sont rencontrés il y a deux semestres.


The professors met each other two semesters ago.


Useful vocabulary to remember:

an - year

mois - month

semaine - week

jour - day

heures - hours

minutes - seconds

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Alexa teaches you how to say "there is" or "there are" in French.

Directions: Translate the following French sentences into English, and English sentences into French. Use the quizlet vocabulary to help you identify key words. Hint: The first three sentences are all in the past tense.

  1. J’ai téléphoné à ma mère il y a trois jours.
  2. Ils ont fait un séjour à Paris il y a deux ans.
  3. Annette a acheté ses bagages il y a longtemps.


  4. Is there an airport in Toulouse ?
  5. There are 2 connections to the flight.
  6. There is a customs officer near (près de) the flight gate.


  1. I called my mom three days ago.
  2. They stayed (made a stay) in Paris two years ago.
  3. Anette bought her bags a long time ago.
  4. Est-ce quil y aORY a-t-ilun aéroport à Toulouse ?
  5. Il y a deux (2) correspondances au vol.
  6. Il y a un douanier près de la porte dembarquement.

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