As you’ve seen, French grammar can be complex. With most grammatical concepts, there are usually additional rules and exceptions that you have to remember. Many words have more than one French meaning or more than one English translation. The last pronoun we’re going to learn is en. En can take on several different meanings in French. We are going to learn it’s use when talking about indefinite or definite quantities. You will learn the other usages in a later module. The additional resources in this module will preview this information.
The English translation for this usage of en is “some,” “any,” or “of it/them.” In general, en can replace a quantity of something. Oftentimes, you’ll see that it replaces a partitive article (de/du/de la/ des/de l’) and a noun. It’s placement, like all other pronouns, comes before the conjugated verb in the sentence. That means in the passé composé, it will precede the auxiliary verb. In a tense like the futur proche where there are two verbs (one conjugated and one infinitive), it will be placed between the two or precede the infinitive.
Look at these example sentences to put en into context:
Nous voulons du saumon. → Nous en voulons.
We want some saumon. We want some.
Il mange des frites pour le déjeuner. → Il en mange pour le déjeuner.
He eats some fries for lunch. He eats some for lunch.
Au réunion, j’ai pris beaucoup de photos. → Au réunion, j’en ai pris beaucoup.
At the meeting, I took a lot of pictures. At the meeting, I took a lot of them.
Un homme emprunte deux cravates à son père. → Un homme en emprunte deux à son père.
A man borrows two ties from his dad. A man borrows two of them from his dad.
Study the example sentences above. En can replace a quantity. This quantity can be indefinite or definite. Indefinite quantities are translated as “some of something.”
- The first two example sentences show how the partitive article + a noun are replaced with the pronoun en. Notice how the noun is no longer in the sentence when it is replaced.
- To review the partitive articles, refer to the module in A1
- Common expressions that also indicate indefinite quantities are: beaucoup de, assez de, and The third example sentence shows how these expressions are used with the pronoun, en. The “de” and the noun that follows it are replaced with en, but the quantity descriptive (beaucoup, assez, plusieurs) stays in the sentence
- Some quantities are definite, or specific. When a number is involved, the noun is replaced with en and the number stays in the sentence. The fourth example sentence shows how this replacement works.