Il y a - Pronunciation and Meaning

Kitten in saucer
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  • Expression: Il y a
  • Pronunciation: [ee lya]
  • Meaning: there is, there are
  • Literal translation: it has there
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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...