A pronoun is something that replaces a noun that has already been introduced in some way. For example, if I say “She is nice” then you will already understand who the pronoun “she” refers to. So, the conversation may have gone: “What do you think of Jane?“, “I think she is nice”, so “she” has replaced the noun “Jane” and this is called a pronoun.
In our example above “she” was used to replace the name “Jane”, but “en” is used to replace a previously introduced noun (a thing) plus a quantity of that thing:
Voulez-vous du vin rouge ? – Do you want some red wine?
Oui, j’en voudrais une bouteille, s’il vous plaît – Yes, I would like a bottle of it, please.
As you can see, we have used “en” to replace “du vin rouge”, which was introduced earlier, and we have a quantity, “a bottle” (or 1 bottle), so this satisfies all the required aspects for using “en”.
One important aspect here is that the quantity can either be specific:
Avez-vous un chat ? – Do you have a cat?
Oui, j’en ai trois – Yes, I have three of them.
Or can be an adverb of quantity:
Aimez-vous les montres ? – Do you like watches?
Oui, j’en ai beaucoup – Yes, I have a lot of them.
Some things to remember are that anything introduced by “un” or “une” is a specific quantity (a quantity of 1):
On en apporte une boîte – We brought a box of them.
And, if you want to say one of something previously introduced, you need to repeat “un” or “une”, just like any other number:
Voulez-vous une tarte à la crème ? – Do you want a custard tart?
Oui, j’en voudrais une, s’il vous plaît – Yes, I would like one (of them) please.
And “pas” means “none”, which is also a quantity:
Voulez-vous du fromage ? – Do you want some cheese?
Non merci, je n’en veux pas – No thank you, I do not want any of it.
And this also applies to “plus”:
Avez-vous du lait – Do you have any milk?
Non, on n’en a plus – No, we do not have any of it anymore?
- A note on “plus”, in colloquial spoken French the “ne” is often dropped, which means we get: “Non, on en a plus“, which could be “I have no more of them” or “I have more of them”. To make the distinction between the two you pronounce the “s” at the end of “plus” to mean “more”, and keep it silent when you mean “no more”.
The placement of “En”
In the present tense “en” is placed directly before the conjugated verb:
J’en achete – I am buying some.
Nous en achetons – We are buying some.
Je n’en achete pas – I am not buying any.
Nous n’en achetons pas – We are not buying any.
In the passé composé and other compound tenses, you place the “en” before the conjugated auxiliary verb (before the entire thing):
Ils en ont acheté – They bought some
Ils n’en ont pas acheté – They did not buy any.
And when used with object pronouns the object pronouns are placed before “en”:
Il m’en achete – He is buying me some.
Il ne m’en achete pas – He is not buying me any.
Il m’en a acheté – He bought me some.
Il ne m’en a pas acheté – He did not buy me any.
One final point, if you want to say “it” on it’s own ( referring to a specific thing), you would need to use the direct object pronoun and not “en”. So, “en” translates to “some of them” or “some of it” or – with a specific number – “One of them”, “Two of them” etc or in the negative “any of it” or “any of them”. If you want to say “it” directly you would use the direct object pronoun:
T’a-t-il acheté la bague de diamants ? – Did he buy you the diamond ring?
Oui, il me l’a acheté ! – Yes, he bought it for me !
In this post, I’ve only talked about the pronoun “en” when it is used with quantities. In the next article I will talk about the second case when “en” is used ; when it is used to replace a noun introduced with verb + de.