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In my opinion, it's not a good thing to translate "y" in the fixed expression "IL Y A". "Il y a " is a whole block, invariable, and mean "There is"/"There are". The "y" in French is an indicator of location, it's rarely used, except in this expression and in some constructions as, "J'y vais" = I go there.
Il y a is made up of three words
1) il - the subject "it"
2) y - the adverbial pronoun "there"
3) a - the third person singular present tense of avoir - "to have"
Meaning: there is, there are
Literal translation: it has there
It is most commonly followed by an indefinite article + noun, a number + noun, or an indefinite pronoun.
Il y a des enfants là-bas.
There are some kids over there.
Il y a un chat dans la voiture.
There's a cat in the car.
Il y a may be followed by a period of time to mean "ago" (not to be confused with depuis):
J'ai vu le film il y a trois semaines.
I saw the movie three weeks ago.
Il y a 2 ans que nous sommes partis.
We left two years ago.
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Hi Andrew, I'm replying to this post of yours because duolingo won't seem to let me reply to the farther down post you made--I think there's a limit to how deep the thread can go. When I said that I couldn't understand any of the stuff you just wrote, I was talking to Sitesurf and how they didn't provide any translations to go with their example sentences. You definitely answered my questions, though. I understood all that perfectly (I have degrees in linguistics and Latin). Thanks!
What I was commenting on is how some people might get confused by the fact that "y" is translated "there" in English, but it's actually not the same "there" that means "(in/at) that place" (the adverbial pronoun). It's actually translated idiomatically as what is called "expletive 'there'" in English. "Expletive there" is just a subject place holder that actually has no semantic content. Take, for example, these two sentences, which illustrate the different between the two "there"s in English:
There is something there. Something is there.
Those two sentences mean essentially the same thing, so you can see that the first "there" in the first sentence actually doesn't mean anything. The "there"s at the end of the sentence, however, mean "(in/at) that place"---which is what "y" means in French. But when you translate it, you translate it idiomatically--not literally--as expletive there, but only in the phrase "il y a". The rest of the time you translate it regularly as the adverbial pronoun.
Sweet, I was right! Thanks so much for the link, man, really helped explain things. :)
I find it really interesting, though, that in the first example, there's a separate word for "over there", which just shows how the "y" in the phrase "il y a" really has been semantically bleached. Is the word "y" used in other context to simply mean "there" (="in that place")?
I think I can translate for you:
- I think about my vacations. I think (about them).
. I think about my college: I think (about it)
Here's some more info:
Y replaces a preposition such as à or chez plus a noun, while en usually replaces de plus a noun.
Y refers to a previously mentioned or implied place; it is normally translated by "there" in English. Y usually replaces a prepositional phrase beginning with something like à, chez, or dans.
Are you going to the bank today? No, I'm going (there) tomorrow.
Tu vas à la banque aujourd'hui ? Non, j'y vais demain.
We're going to the store. Do you want to go (there)?
Nous allons au magasin. Tu veux y aller ?
He was at Jean's house. He was there.
Il était chez Jean. Il y était.
Note that "there" can often be omitted in English, but y can never be omitted in French. Je vais (I'm going) is not a complete sentence in French; if you don't follow the verb with a place, you have to say J'y vais.
Y can also replace à + a noun that is not a person, such as with verbs that need à. Note that in French, you must include either à + something or its replacement y, even though the equivalent may be optional in English. You cannot replace the noun with an object pronoun.
I'm responding to a letter. I'm responding (to it).
Correct: Je réponds à une lettre. J'y réponds.
Wrong: Je réponds, Je la réponds, Je lui réponds.
He's thinking about our trip. He's thinking about it.
Correct: Il pense à notre voyage. Il y pense.
Wrong: Il pense, Il le pense, Il lui pense.
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