The terrible French word “en”
Comment maîtriser ce mot compliqué en français
Last week, we talked about the enigmatic word y.
If you missed this article, read it first.
Now you’re ready to take one of its little cousin: en.
For a native French speaker, this nifty little word is essential.
We use it without thinking about it, but when it’s not there, something is missing. In short, the pronoun en seems innocent, but is essential to speaking French fluently.
Let’s not confuse it with the preposition en, which translates to “in.”
For example :
Je crois en lui
I believe in him
Today, we’re talking about the pronoun en.
Consider the following examples:
Je vais en prendre deux
I will take two
Je vais en parler avec mon partenaire
I will talk about it with my partner
Je n’en crois pas mes yeux!
I don’t believe my eyes!
Je ne suis pas certain quoi en penser
I’m not sure what to think about it
Think about the meaning of those examples. We’ll come back to them.
What is the difference between the following sentences:
Je vais parler à mon mari
Je vais en parler à mon mari
The first example translates to: “I’m going to talk to my husband.”
The second example would translate to: “I’m going to talk to my husband about it.”
Prepositions in French are simple, but how they are used is more complex than in English.
The use of the pronoun en is a good example.
En is a word that replaces the preposition de (with a noun or a group of nouns), or expresses a quantity, which also refers to the preposition de (a quantity of something).
En often refers to “some quantity.”
How would you say in French, when referring to lemons?
I brought some!
J’en ai apporté.
Here, en refers to de ça — meaning, “of the lemons.” So, we’re talking about a quantity.
In English, you could go to a farmer’s market, and when the person asks you how many lemons you’d like, simply answer:
I’ll take two
If you were to translate this literally into French, you would say:
Je vais prendre deux
In French, something is horribly missing in that sentence. The lack of the word en sticks out like a sore thumb.
In French, you have to say:
Je vais en prendre deux
Immediately, this feels complete. 😮💨
In French, you cannot end a sentence with a number, when referring to this number as a quantity of something.
In other words, en is needed whenever the said quantity is implied, or when en refers to another noun or group of nouns that includes the preposition de.
So, this means that you can only use en effectively if you know which verbs use the preposition de! Again, this goes back to the importance of knowing your prepositions.
Let’s consider the following examples
Je vais en acheter
I will buy some
Je vais aller en chercher
I’ll go get some
Je mange une banane. – J’en veux une
I’m eating banana. – I want one
On en a profité pour découvrir la ville
We took advantage of this time to discover the city
Je ne vous en dis pas plus pour l’instant
I won’t tell you more about this for now
J’aimerais en apprendre plus sur la France
I’d like to learn more about France
Est-ce que tu veux du café? Oui, j’en veux
Do you want some coffee? Yes, I’d like some
Je m’en fiche
I don’t care
Other uses of en
En always refers to the preposition de (“of something”).
However, it’s sometimes used in certain expressions, where this logic is not so obvious.
It’s best to not overthink this, and simply learn these expressions on their own. In other words, adding the word en, along with other prepositions or words, changes the meaning.
Consider the following:
Je suis arrivé hier
I arrived yesterday
Comment est-ce qu’on en est arrivé là?
How did we end up in this mess?
Je ne veux pas le faire
I don’t want to do it
Je ne t’en veux pas
I don’t blame you
Je fais un gâteau
I’m making you a cake
Je m’en fais pour toi
I’m worried about you
Je me demandais s’il viendrait
I was wondering if he’d come
J’en étais à me demander si elle viendrait
I was at the point of wondering if she would come
Do you want to come?
Où voulez-vous en venir?
What do you mean by that? What’s your point? What are you trying to say?
Je m’en suis pris à lui
I went after him
Here the expression is s’en prendre à quelqu’un.
Il s’en est tiré
It could have been worse. Or: he got away (with it).
S’en tirer means: do well, when it could have been worse.
Rewrite the following sentences, without mentioning the words in bold. Replace them by the word en.
Est-ce que tu veux un peu de café?
Je prendrais un autre verre de vin.
Ils rêvent de ce voyage.
Fais de la confiture avec les fraises (here: the meaning is « des fraises)
Il est mort d’un cancer.
On se souviendra de cette journée.
J’ai trop dit à propos de ça.
Je lui ai parlé de mon problème.
Je ne bois pas assez d’eau.
Je ne joue pas de piano.