French The Pronoun "en"

Overview

The adverbial pronoun en can replace a quantity, a place, or the object of the preposition de. This little word has many possible translations: any, one, some, about it / them, of it / them.

En  replaces or refers back to an adverb phrase of quantity or part. In its simplest form, it means just of it or of them.

En  replaces an adverb phrase of direction or of movement from a designated place. It often replaces or refers back to the French preposition de.

En  replaces or refers back to an adverb phrase using the preposition de in a figurative meaning after a verb

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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, jai pris beaucoup de photos.      Au réunion, jen 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.

Notes :

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.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
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I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.