Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 64): l’expression – il y a


Source: french.about.com

The French expression il y a (pronounced as ee lya) which can mean “there is/are” and is literally translated as “it has there,” is one of the most important expressions in the French language. 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 deux choses à faire. There are two things to do.
Il y a quelqu’un à la porte. There’s someone at the door.

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.

To ask a question, with il y a, you can either use est-ce que or inversion.

Est-ce qu’il y a un chat? Is there a cat?
Est-ce qu’il y a des enfants? Are there any kids?

For inversion, place y first, then invert il and a and place -t- between them (why?):

Y a-t-il un chat? Is there a cat?
Y a-t-il des enfants? Are there any kids?

Il y a can also be used with interrogative words:

Pourquoi est-ce qu’il y a un chat dans mon lit? Why is there a cat in my bed?
Combien d’enfants y a-t-il? How many kids are there?
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a? and Qu’y a-t-il? mean “What’s wrong?”

To use il y a in a negative construction, place n’ (why not ne?) in front of y and pas after a. Remember that the indefinite article must change to de due to the negative construction:

Il n’y a pas de chat dans la voiture. There is not a cat in the car.
Il n’y a pas d’enfants là-bas. There aren’t any kids over 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”

To use il y a in another tense, simply conjugate avoir into that tense:

Il y avait un chat…There was a cat…
Il y aura des chats…There will be some cats…
Il n’y a pas eu de chat… There was no cat…

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