Il y a - Pronunciation and Meaning

French expressions analyzed and explained

Kitten in saucer
Martin Poole/Getty Images

Expression: Il y a
Pronunciation: [ee lya]
Meaning: there is, there are
Literal translation: it has there
Register: normal

How to Use Il y a in French

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:

   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...