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Use of pronouns "y", "en", "lui" or "leur"
It is sometimes a little difficult to know which pronoun to use to replace a noun phrase in a sentence. Learners of French, as well as native French speakers, find it difficult to use the pronouns "y", "en", "lui" or "leur". Indeed, it is sometimes a bit confusing to use "lui" even when referring to a female person.

So here is a quick summary of the main cases where the different pronouns should be used. This summary is not intended to be exhaustive or very precise but it is a good starting point for learners. You can refer to it if you do not know which one to use. You can also, of course, ask questions on the forum to find out which pronoun to use in particular cases.

The pronoun used to replace a noun or a noun phrase depends on its nature or what it represents.

A place

  • For a place where you go, we use "y".

  • Example:

    Je vais au bureau. (I am going to the office) → J'y vais. (I am going)

  • For a place where you are, we use "y".

  • Example:

    Je suis dans ma chambre. (I am in my bedroom) → J'y suis. (I am in it)

  • For a place where you come from, we use "en".

  • Example:

    Je reviens du supermarché. (I just came back from the supermarket) → J'en reviens. (I just came back from there)

An inanimate thing

  • For one or several inanimate things introduced by "à", "au", "aux", we use "y" regardless of the number (singular or plural).

  • Example:

    Je m'intéresse à la littérature. (I am interested in the literature) → Je m'y intéresse. (I am interested)
    J'ai touché aux boutons. (I touched the buttons) → J'y ai touché. (I touched them)
    Je joue au jeu. (I am playing the game) → J'y joue. (I am playing it)

  • For one or several inanimate things introduced by the preposition "de", we use "en".

  • Example:

    Il parle souvent de son film préféré. (He often talks about his favourite film) → Il en parle souvent. (He often talks about it)

A quantity

  • For a countable or uncountable quantity, we use "en".

  • Example:

    Je veux du gâteau. (I want some cake) → J'en veux. (I want some)
    J'ai des billes (I have balls) → J'en ai. (I have a few)
    J'ai bu du lait (I drank some milk) → J'en ai bu. (I drank some)

A person or an animal

  • For persons or animals introduced by the preposition "de", we use "de lui", "d'elle", "d'eux" or "d'elles" according to the gender (female or male) and number (singular or plural).

  • Example:

    Je parle de Jean. → Je parle de lui

  • For persons or animals introduced by the preposition "à", we use "lui" (singular, male/female) or "leur" (plural, male/female) according to the number BUT regardless of the gender.

  • Example:

    Je parle à Jean. (I am talking to Jean) → Je lui parle. (I am talking to him)
    Je parle à Sophie. (I am talking to Sophie) → Je lui parle. (I am talking to her)
    Je parle à ces gens. (I am talking to these people) → Je leur parle. (I am talking to them)
    J'ai donné à manger au chien. (I fed the dog) → Je lui ai donné à manger. (I fed him)

    ⚠️ However, this rule does not work with certain verbs that are constructed with the preposition "à". In this case, the noun phrase cannot be replaced by a pronoun if it represents people or animals.

    - penser à [quelqu'un] (to think of [someone])

    Je pense à mon travail. (I am think of it) (the rule applies) → J'y pense. (I am think of it)
    Je pense à mon oncle. (I am thinking of my uncle) (the rule does not apply) → Je pense à lui. (I am thinking of him) (and not "je lui pense")

    - s'intéresser à [quelqu'un] (to be interested in [someone])

    Il s'intéresse à la science. (He is interested in science) (the rule applies) → Il s'y intéresse. (He is interested in it)
    Il s'intéresse à sa copine. (He is interested in his girlfriend) (the rule does not apply) → Il s'intéresse à elle. (He is interested in her) (and not "il se lui intéresse")

    Here is a non-exhaustive list of verbs for which the rule does not apply only if the complement represents persons or animals:

    - penser/songer à [quelqu'un] : to think about [someone]
    - s'intéresser à [quelqu'un] : to be interested in [someone]
    - avoir affaire à [quelqu'un] : to have to do with [someone]
    - prendre garde à [quelqu'un] : to beware of [someone]
    - renoncer à [quelqu'un] : to give up on [someone]
    - tenir à [quelqu'un] : to hold on to [someone]
    - se fier à [quelqu'un] : to rely on [someone]
    - s'adresser à [quelqu'un] : to address [someone]
    - se présenter à [quelqu'un] : to introduce oneself to [someone]

Note: If there are several nouns or noun phrases, the pronoun "en" is always placed after the pronoun "lui".

J'ai donné du lait au chat. (I gave the cat some milk) → Je lui en ai donné. (I gave him some)

There are, of course, other pronouns and other examples of use of these pronouns, but this reminder is a good starting point for using the pronouns "y", "en" and "lui" in most cases.

Do not hesitate to ask your questions on the forum: Discussion forums.
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Quick comments
• Autho [15/02/2022 at 06:17:42]
Wow, thank you for this reminder! It makes things much clearer. I always struggled with these pronouns. 😄

• Message from Admin:
Glad it helps. 😉

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