In this post, let’s review the basic use of the French en.
I want one.
J’en veux un.
To say I want one in French, you’ve got to include en. You can’t say je veux un. Instead, you say j’en veux un.
We can translate en as of them here. What we’re really saying when we say j’en veux un is I want one of them. In English, you have the choice of omitting of them. You can say I want one, or you can say I want one of them. In French, you don’t have that choice; you must include the en.
The English of them goes after the number: I want one of them. The French en goes before the verb: J’en veux un.
Read through these examples:
J’en veux un.
J’en veux deux.
J’en vois trois.
J’en mange quatre.
J’en prends cinq.
I want one. I want one of them.
I want two. I want two of them.
I see three. I see three of them.
I eat four. I eat four of them.
I take five. I take five of them.
When you say j’en veux un, you’re necessarily talking about an object whose name is a masculine noun in French, like un oiseau or un gâteau or un vélo. If you’re talking about an object whose name is a feminine noun in French, like une chemise, you’ll say j’en veux une to say that you want one of them.
Il en donne quatre.
Tu en veux neuf.
Tu en prends cinq.
Il en voit une.
He gives four. He gives four of them.
You want nine. You want nine of them.
You take five. You take five of them.
He sees one. He sees one of them.
In spoken language, il en contracts to y’en. Tu en contracts to t’en. Here’s how those last examples can be heard in spoken language:
Y’en donne quatre.
T’en veux neuf.
T’en prends cinq.
Y’en voit une.
Here now are examples of en in sentences used in the past tense. Note the placement of en — it goes before the auxiliary and past participle:
J’en ai vu trois.
J’en ai mangé quatre.
J’en ai pris cinq.
I saw three. I saw three of them.
I ate four. I ate four of them.
I took five. I took five of them.
You can’t say j’ai vu trois or j’ai mangé quatre. You’ve always got to include that en, even when speaking in an informal style. No exceptions… sorry!
Pronunciation tip: The ai in those last three examples above is really pronounced n’ai because of the liaison.
More past tense:
Il en a donné quatre.
Tu en as pris cinq.
Tu en as donné un.
Il en a vu une.
He gave four. He gave four of them.
You took five. You took five of them.
You gave one. You gave one of them.
He saw one. He saw one of them.
In spoken language, those last four can come out like this instead:
Y’en a donné quatre.
T’en as pris cinq.
T’en as donné un.
Y’en a vu une.
Again, because of the liaison, a and as in these examples are really pronounced n’a.
Here are examples where en is used in sentences including a verb in the infinitive. Again, watch where the en goes:
Je veux en acheter un.
Je compte en faire quatre.
Je crois en voir cinq.
J’aimerais en faire dix.
I want to buy one (of them).
I intend to make four (of them).
I believe I see five (of them).
I’d like to make ten (of them).
Can you say the following in French?
I see ten.
I bought two.
I want to buy one.
He ate four.
He wants to take five.
You took one.
You want to eat one.
Now you can also add to your knowledge saying things like this:
J’en veux un comme ça.
I want one (of them) like that.
J’en ai pris un troisième.
I took a third one (of them).
J’en veux un noir.
I want a black one (of them).
J’en veux une avec du fromage.
I want one (of them) with cheese.
J’en veux un autre.
I want another one (of them).
Je compte en faire d’autres.
I intend to make more (of them).
If you say j’en veux on its own not followed by anything else, it means I want some. You can use this with uncountable things — sugar and water, for example.
Don’t confuse j’en veux with je t’en veux. J’en veux means I want some, but je t’en veux means I’m upset with you. That’s because the expression en vouloir à quelqu’un means to be upset with someone.
Keep reading about en: