Il y a

Essential French Expression

Il y a une coccinelle
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Meaning there is, there are; ago
Literally it has there
Register normal
Pronunciation [ee lyah]
IPA   [i lja]

Usage notes: There are few expressions more useful than il y a, the French equivalent of "there is/are" and "ago."

Il y a = there is, there are

Il y a is most commonly used in one of three constructions:

1. Il y a + indefinite article + noun

Il y a une coccinelle dans le jardin.   There’s a ladybug in the garden.
Il y a des problèmes avec cet arrangement.   There are some problems with this arrangement.

 Not il y ont

It doesn’t matter if what comes next is singular or plural; in the present tense, the expression is always il y a. Il y ont does not exist.

2. Il y a + number + noun

Il y a trois étudiants qui ont réussi à l’examen.   There are three students who passed the test.
Il y a deux choses à faire demain.   There are two things to do tomorrow.

3. Il y a + indefinite adjective or pronoun

Il y a plusieurs solutions possibles.   There are several possible solutions.
Je pense qu’il y a quelqu’un dans la cave.   I think there’s someone in the cellar.

Il y a  in other tenses

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”

 *Not il ya

Il and y never change. However, since a is the third person singular present tense of avoir, you can say there was, there will be, etc., by conjugating for that tense:

Il y avait une coccinelle dans le jardin.   There was a ladybug in the garden.
Il y aura une coccinelle dans le jardin.   There will be a ladybug in the garden.

 Remember: even though the verb is a form of “be” in English (was, were, will be, etc), the French verb in this expression is always a form of avoir, not être.

Il y a  in questions

There are two different ways to ask questions with il y a:

With est-ce que

Place est-ce que directly in front of il y a and remember the required contraction.

Est-ce qu’il y a un problème ?   Is there a problem?
Est-ce qu’il y a des solutions ?   Are there any solutions ?
Combien de coccinelles est-ce qu’il y a dans le jardin ?   How many ladybugs are there in the garden?
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a ?   What’s wrong?
With inversion

Invert il y a by placing the pronoun y first, then invert il and a, and connect them with -t-

Y a-t-il un problème?   Is there a problem?
Y a-t-il des solutions ?   Are there any solutions ?
Pourquoi y a-t-il un coccinelle dans le jardin ?   Why is there a ladybug in the garden?
Qu’y a-t-il ?   What’s wrong?

  There is only one correct inversion spelling and it consists of one empty space, two hyphens, and no apostrophes: y a-t-il. All of the following variations—and any others you might encounter—are wrong:

  • y-a-t-il
  • y-a-t’il
  • y-a t’il
  • y a-t’il
  • y a t’il
  • y’a-t-il
  • y’a-t’il
  • ya-t-il
  • ya-t il
  • ya-t’il
  • ya t’il

Informally, the first word is dropped and il y a is pronounced simply ya.

Il y a  with negation

To say "there isn’t" or "there aren’t," place n’ in front of y and pas after a. The preposition de must precede the noun that comes next.

Il n’y a pas de problème.   There are no problems.
Il n’y a pas de solution.   There’s no solution.
Il n’y a pas de coccinelle dans le jardin.   There are no ladybugs in the garden.

Il y a = ago

When followed by a period of time or temporal adverb, il y a is the French equivalent of "ago":

Je lui ai parlé il y a deux semaines.   I talked to him two weeks ago.
Il y a 5 ans que j’ai vendu ma voiture.   I sold my car 5 years ago.
Il est parti il y a longtemps.   He left a long time ago.

Expressions and proverbs with il y a

Il n’y a pas de fumée sans feu.   There’s no smoke without a fire.
Il n’y a pas de roses sans épines.   There’s no rose without a thorn.
Il n’y a pas de sot métier (il n’y a que de sottes gens).   Every trade has its value.
Il n’y a que les montagnes qui ne se rencontrent pas.   There are none so distant that fate cannot bring them together
Il y a loin de la coupe aux lèvres.   There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.
Il y a quelque chose qui cloche   There’s something amiss.
Il y a un temps pour tout.   There’s a right time for everything.
Où il y a de la gêne, il n’y a pas de plaisir.   Comfort comes first, There’s no point in being uncomfortable.
Tant qu’il y a de la vie, il y a de l’espoir.   Where there’s life, there’s hope.

Also see expressions with y.

 Related lessons

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Il y a une coccinelle

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