Il y a - Pronunciation and Meaning

French expressions analyzed and explained

Kitten in saucer
"Il y a un chaton dans cette tasse." (There's a kitten in this cup.). Martin Poole/Getty Images

Expression: Il y a

Pronunciation: [ee lya]

Meaning: there is, there are

Literal translation: it has there

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Notes: The French expression il y a, which can mean "there is" or "there are," 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 un chaton dans cette tasse.


   There's a kitten in this cup.

   Il y a des enfants là-bas.
   There are some kids over there.

   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 chaton ?
   Is there a kitten?

   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 chaton ?
   Is there a kitten?

   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?"

Note: The only correct inversion spelling is y a-t-il, with exactly two hyphens and no apostrophes. Please avoid y-a-t-il, y-a-t'il, y a-t'il, y a-til, y a til, etc.



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 (learn more):

   Il n'y a pas de chaton dans cette tasse.
   There is no kitten in that cup.

   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 chaton...
   There was a kitten...

   Il y aura des chatons...
   There will be some kittens...

   Il n'y a pas eu de chaton...
   There was no kitten...

More
   • Everyday French phrases
   • Most common French phrases
   • Expressions with avoir