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Language Challenge #3 – y Pronoun Findings

The y pronoun

So another week has flown by and that means another week of focused French learning! This week I was working specifically on the French adverbial y pronoun; tiny but powerful. If you haven’t already, go ahead and watch this week’s video at the top of the page.

What I knew already

I already knew that y replaced names of places and couldn’t be omitted unlike in English: Yes, I’m going tonight. French: Oui, j’y vais ce soir. I also knew that it replaced nouns introduced by à after a verb and I knew 1 or 2 of the verbs that followed this pattern. Unfortunately there’s no rule that decides which verbs are followed by à. You just have to find and memorise them. So I knew this second rule but only knowing of 2 means I was very short of being comfortable using y regularly. I had to find more verbs!

What I did

I needed to find a list of verbs that are followed by à. This wasn’t too hard in principle (there’s a nice article on French Today containing a big list), however, there is a serious dearth of information when it comes to this specific usage. The linked article contains mainly verbs followed by à + infinitive or à + noun who is a person. The y pronoun cannot replace a person. So I had to get my new verbs from various places. I will provide the links below. Perhaps we are too spoiled these days but usually I can find what I’m looking for in 1 Google search. Here’s the list of common verbs I came up with that require the y pronoun:

  • Penser à – to think about (to have in your thoughts rather than to form an opinion about [that’s penser de])
    • Je pense à mon examen => j’y pense
  • Réfléchir à – to reflect on
    • Je réfléchis à ce que j’ai fait => j’y réfléchis
  • Obéir à – to obey (no preposition in English)
    • Je dois obéir à la loi => je dois y obéir
  • Faire attention à – to be careful of, to pay attention to
    • Fais attention à la tête! => fais-y attention!
  • Assister à – to attend (no preposition in English)
    • J’assiste au match => j’y assiste
  • Jouer à – to play (a game, or sport)
    • Il joue au badminton => il y joue
  • Réussir à – to succeed at
  • Goûter à – to taste/to try (food/drink)

I put these verbs into a Quizlet flashcard set and began memorising them.

The first 6 of those are handy because one can simply memorise them as we would any new vocabulary. I want to draw your attention to what I found most interesting (geek alert!) this week. It’s the 2 exceptions to this rule that I discovered when working on this this past week.

  1. Réussir à – An example in the past tense is best to explain this. In old French j’y ai réussi would have been used to say I have succeeded at something but in modern French the French speakers simply said je l’ai réussi. Cool! I’d be fascinated to know if francophones from other countries use the older version. Please let me know!
  2. Goûter à – In the present tense the French use the pronouns as they do for the past tense of réussir. As in je la/le/les goûte instead of j’y goûte. However, in the past tense, y would be put to use: j’y ai goûté. Again, if this isn’t the same in your version of French please speak up.

If your level isn’t so high you needn’t worry about these nuances of the language like the y pronoun, it’s much more important that you are comfortable with the order of the parts in the sentences and the conjugations of the verbs for example. However, once you’re at easy with the verbs you should make more of an effort to get the pronouns right, both which ones you should use and where to put them.

As and when I find more verbs that fit this rule I’ll be sure to post them here. For now, that’s it. Please let me know in the comments below if you know any other verbs that fit the rule and require the y pronoun, as well as to tell me what you think of my findings or anything at all!

See you tomorrow for a new challenge.

Further reading – The verbs and rules of using the y pronoun. – French Today article listing verbs + à

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