Y and En are pronouns that replace previously mentioned nouns and quantity of nouns. Example of Y: Vous allez à la plage? Oui, j'y vais (Translation: Yes I am going there) Or negative: Non, je n'y vais pas (I am not going there). Here Y replaces "à la plage". Example of En: Vous voulez du café? Oui, J'en veux. (Translation: I want some.) Negative: Non, Je n'en veux pas. (I do not want any. I do not want some.)
So this sentence that they give you, "Je m'en vais." doesn't make any sense logically in and of itself. This sentence requires a context and dialogue to understand its application. So, consider the following scenario:
You are at a party and ready to leave. People ask, "Where are you going?" or "Où allez-vous?". You respond,"Je suis fatigué (I am tired.) J'ai besoin de sommeil (I need sleep). Je vais chez moi." They beg and implore you to stay. Keep you 10-15 minutes longer. Finally, you are really ready to go. "Je t'aime tous (I love you all). J'ai eu l'amusement (I had fun), cependant (however), maintenant JE M"EN VAIS."
So, in this context, people hear I am going home. The thing to remember, is that it replaces a previously mentioned noun.
There is more to be learned. This should give you some groundwork.
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I stand corrected. I was not aware of the verb "s'en aller". My only introduction of "Y" and "En" is from my French teacher, and the examples I listed above are still, none-the-less, correct. For any future readers, disregard my first two sentences of the second paragraph above: "So this sentence that they give you, "Je m'en vais." doesn't make any sense logically in and of itself. This sentence requires a context and dialogue to understand its application." For French translations of "to leave" and conjugations of "s'en aller", you can read further here.... http://french.about.com/cs/vocabulary/a/toleave.htm
"En" is used to replace "de..." (among other things), and "y" is used to replace "à..." (among other things), so if I understand correctly, "Je m'en vais" is more like I'm leaving (I go from here, with "en" replacing "d'ici"), and "J'y vais" is more like "I'm heading there" (with "y" replacing "à quelque part").
My native-speaking tutor uses "j'y vais" as "I'm leaving now" - also idiomaric, but seemingly similar. I was hoping for another comment on the idiomatic nature of the relationship between the two phrases. He doesn't think "there" when he says it. It is perhaps part of the vernacular? I don't know. I guess I can skype him but I was hoping someone knew.
I heard that, too! But a lot of things in French sound like a lot of other things. And as I'm in Northern Québec, a lot of things DON'T sound like what they are. (Phonetically, here in the Saguenay region, "Je ne sais pas," is pronounced almost exclusively as "Chez pas." Haha!)
Context helps a LOT out in the real world. I have realized that, if I know what people are talking about, I understand at least 50% more of the conversation than if I'm completely lost in the beginning.
I don't like using Google Chrome as a browser but I do use it on certain sites because it has a plugin called Language Immersion.
When invoked it translates web pages into the specified language with adjustable levels of difficulty. I have it set to about 50 per cent. The app can be toggled to convert the entire page back to English or just selected words and phrases that prove difficult to figure out.
Using it on a technical web site which covers material that I am familiar with, I can look at pages that are half in French and half in English and read them naturally.
edit: a couple of years later it seems that this app is not available anymore.
One way around it is to use the "slower" button -- that function pronounces each word or combination separately. In this case, "m'en" and "vais" are separated, while if it were "mauvais" it would be pronounced as a single word.
FWIW, "Je mauvais" is one of the things I heard, none of which made sense to me. -1 point...
I'm pretty sure I'm starting to understand why "en" is used here, but I'm still rather confused by the reflexive verb part, specifically the "m" in "m'en." I understand why it's "m'en" and not "s'en," I'm specifically confused on why aller is reflexive here.
Does the sentence "Je me vais d'ici" make any sense? Is it correct to translate it as "I myself go from here" as in "I get myself out of here"? (Awkward in English, yes, but I'm trying to get all the parts of the sentence and why they exist. Making it sound fluid in English is a second part of the translation process to me.)
If "Je me vais d'ici" does make sense in French, why is aller being used reflexively?
Aller is not reflexive. Not on its own. 'S'en aller' is a verb in its own right and belongs to a special group. Think of the two as distinct verbs. 'En' is simply part of the verb in this case. The 's' in "s'en" agrees with the subject. In this case 'I' am the subject so 'me' would be the reflexive pronoun in order to agree. This is why you use (Je me + en) "m'en vais" (conjugated form of s'en aller).
Rather, please refer to the first comment at the top. This is explained very well. The phrase itself would not be made on its own, it would flow from a conversation between two speakers. "en", as in s'en aller, is used to refer to the previous noun mentioned or something which is known to speaker and recipient. Since Aller is not reflexive, it needs somewhere to go to. "En" simply facilitates this in the context.
Think of it as being comparable to English.
Q. ...Do you still go to that nightclub?
A. ......No, I used to go but not any more....
The English answer could possibly mean ...I used to go to nightclubs but not any more. .... Or it could mean you don't go to that particular nightclub anymore. It is up to the listener to figure out what your intended meaning is. It may seem obvious but he still has to figure it out and if it is important, ask you for clarification.
The French answer requires that you specify that you are clearly talking about the absent something. You are still talking about that nightclub. It is your job to make it clear, not the listener's to figure it out. It does not have to be a place. It can be anything that is understood to be in the conversation but is not explicitly included in the sentence. There are two words that are used a lot to fill the function of specifying the referral to a previously discussed or understood something.
The two most common are en and y. There are a multitude of rules which determine which one to use.
An example of a rule applied to the use of y or en.
Q. ...Are you going to the bank today?. Q. ...Tu vais à la banque aujourd'hui? = correct.
A. ....No, I am going tomorrow. A. Non, je vais demain. = incorrect. You didn't specify where you are going.
A. .....No, I am going tomorrow. A. Non, j'y vais demain. = correct. You made it clear you are still talking about the absent something, namely, to the bank. In English you can choose to say I am going there tomorrow or you can drop the there. In French you can't drop it.
Why y and not en? Because there is a rule that when a phrase starts with à as in à la banque, it is replaced with Y. In this case, the y required by the presence of à is elided from Je y vais to J'y vais.
As you apply them, you will begin to see the internal grammar logic of having a symbol that replaces an à phrase and another symbol that replaces a de phrase.
Each time you learn a rule for when to use y or en the whole concept gets easier to deal with.
Just. Too. Many. Rules..... close to giving up now as this left (or right) brain dominant person simply can't cope with all of these rules and heavy grammar. Perhaps I lack the intellectual horsepower, I don't know. Good luck to everyone else who seems to find this a lot easier than me.
Just ignore the rules just like you do most of the time with English. Just keep repeating French phrases and sentences until some things sound natural and other things don't seem to be right.
Students see a construction that seems unfamiliar so they ask why. It's natural to want to know the rule because it helps predict the future. But the function of knowing the rule is to help reduce frustration with language use that is new to the student. However, if the rules cause frustration then forget about them.
It's like a student of English asking you when to use isn't rather than is not. You can easily understand why the student would want to know such a thing. You can explain about formal vs informal and it's a pretty individual choice. Or you could say ......don't worry about it, that is the least of your worries.......
In your own case, your accent will be more a problem making your self understood than misuse of en and y. Duo will tell you that you made a mistake but nobody else will unless you made it clear you want them to.
If you want to speak French as compared to understanding the structure of it, then use skype, youtube, French movies, songs etc. along with Duo. Don't worry if you make mistakes because I can assure you most English speakers break the grammar rules all the time, especially when actually talking.
Don't give up just yet. It may be difficult at first but it gets easier as time goes by provided you practice more.
If possible, try to enrol in a French course. Besides being taught French, you get to interact with people who, just like you, are learning the language. One thing to note is that actively making an effort to speak a language makes you pick it up faster.
You don't have to understand this now. Forget about the hard and fast rules on this and remember some simple key principles:
en & y are like all other pronouns.They replace something already mentioned and shorten them into a concise phrase.
There is no difference to English in this regard, we use "it", "this / that" quite regularly in English in much the same way.
The only real difference is placement of the pronoun.
So the most important thing is to be able to "spot" when these pronouns are being used, especially during speech. It's then optional for you to use it and you can avoid it if it's easier to compose a sentence or respond to someone quickly.
The easiest answer is that "s'en aller" is a verb different to aller, which on its own is not reflexive. Please read post 1 for a full explanation. In English we can say "I'm leaving" and its perfectly normal. But in French its just not possible without using a reflexive pronoun - e.g. myself. Use of the verb here dictates when the pronoun applies, as the subject and object of the sentence are the same ("me"). I hope this helps.
I suggest having a look at 'Je pars' alone. This phrase is used differently and usually augments an action of going or leaving somewhere or something without necessarily using these words. For example "Je pars pour aller en Angleterre".
There are many ways to translate this in English. How would you translate it? (I'll give you my try if you respond).
You are right "Je pars" is often part of a larger construction however it can be used on its own in which case it means "I'm leaving - I'm off". In this case it has the same meaning as "Je m'en vais".
You are also right that it can be used with "aller" in which case, as you say, it adds something.
"Je pars pour aller en Angleterre" is probably best translated as "I am leaving for England" - as @NathanRenn2 suggests. However the real emphasis in the French is "I am starting on my journey to England". I have just got on a train in Istanbul and am starting on a two week journey through Europe ending in England.
"Je pars aller en Angleterre" is probably best translated as "I'm leaving to go to England" - Here the emphasis in the French is the reason for leaving. "I'm leaving in order to go to England" - "I'm leaving France because I want a better life in England" ;)
And this is my point. "Je pars" + "aller" together add something to the translation/meaning & could be:
"I'm departing to..."; "I'm going to..."; "I'm travelling to..."; I'm moving to..."; I'm visiting..." and so on.
My attempt here is "I'm visiting England".
It's just my speculation, but I think it is usual for "Je pars" to be accompanied by other information to contextualise the movement from one place to another. I don't think it's customary to be used on its own.
I played the expression "je mon vais" from google translate (which they say means I'm going, btw" and as far as I can tell from careful listening to them several times, it sounds the same as "je m'en vais" (and it means the same!) Is there another way to tell when to use this answer?