French The Expression "there is" "there are"


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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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 aune 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 aIs it that there is/are…

Y a-t-ilAre/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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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 and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.