In French, when ‘en‘ is used as a pronoun it means ‘some’ or ‘of it’ and can therefore replace a phrase beginning with ‘de‘ (or ‘du‘, or ‘des‘). ‘En’ is also used as a preposition, but that usage will not be dealt with in this article. Like the object pronouns and the pronoun ‘y‘, it precedes the verb, as in these examples:
Vous avez du sucre? Vous en avez? – Have you got some sugar? Have you got some?
Tu as des crayons? Oui, j’en ai un. – Have you got any pencils? Yes, I’ve got one (of them).
Il est sorti de la banque. Il en est sorti. – He has come out of the bank. He has come out of it.
As with other pronouns, if there are two consecutive verbs, ‘en‘ may immediately precede the second one:
Je vais prendre des fruits. Je vais en prendre. – I’m going to have some fruit. I’m going to have some.
Nous voulons acheter des livres. Nous voulons en acheter. – We want to buy some books. We want to buy some.
Vous pourrez trouver des framboises dans le jardin. Vous pourrez en trouver dans le jardin. – You can (will be able to) find raspberries in the garden. You can find some in the garden.
If ‘en’ is used together with one or more of the pronouns ‘me’, ‘te’, ‘se’, ‘nous’, ‘vous’, ‘le’, ‘la’, ‘les’, ‘lui’, ‘leur’ or ‘y’, it will follow them:
Il y a des bananes. Il y en a. – There are some bananas. There are some.
J’ai fait cadeau de l’argent aux enfants. Je leur en ai fait cadeau. – I gave some money as a present to the children. I gave them some as a present.
The rules for using ‘en’ with the imperative (command form) are the same as those for object pronouns: it follows a positive imperative but precedes a negative one, as in these examples:
Prenez du poulet. Prenez-en. – Take some chicken. Take some.
Bois du vin, mais n’en bois pas tout.– Drink some wine, but don’t drink all of it.
With thanks to Elizabeth Allen