Lezioni Francese

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Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?

Il y a is probably one of the most common French expressions, and appears countless times in Yabla videos, which makes it a perfect lesson topic! Though it literally means "it has there," il y a is the equivalent of "there is" or "there are." You'll find it very useful when describing a location or a situation: 

 

Donc, en effet, il y a des vagues, il y a du courant. Le courant est fort.

So, indeed, there are waves, there is a current. The current is strong.

Caption 2, À la plage avec Lionel - La plage

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As the above example demonstrates, il y a remains unchanged regardless of whether its object is singular (du courant) or plural (des vagues). It does change, however, according to the tense of the sentence. Here it is in the imperfect, passé composé, and future tenses: 

 

Il y avait un lièvre mais, tu vois, il courait trop vite.

There was a hare, but you see, it was running too fast.

Caption 15, Il était une fois - Les Amériques - 1. Les premiers Américains

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Quand il est mort, il y a eu un million ... Parisiens qui ont suivi, euh, le cortège.

When he died, there were a million ... Parisians following, uh, the procession.

Caption 15, Bertrand Pierre - Victor Hugo

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Il y aura beaucoup de tableaux à voir au musée.
There will be many paintings to see at the museum. 

 

Il y a can also be used to indicate the passage of time, in which case it usually means "ago":

 

On a commencé il y a dix minutes.

We started ten minutes ago.

Caption 47, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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You can also use the phrase il y a... que to express the same thing, though in this case it usually means "for" or "since":

Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris. 
I've lived in Paris for three months. 

Incidentally, you could rewrite the above sentence three different ways, all with the same meaning: 

Ça fait trois mois que j'habite à Paris. 
Voilà trois mois que j'habite à Paris. 
J'habite à Paris depuis trois mois. 

Another more informal way of using il y a is when you notice someone looking sad or upset and you ask them: Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? (What's wrong?) Even more informally, you can shorten that question to: Qu'y a-t-il? If you're wondering why there's suddenly a "t" and two hyphens there, check out our lesson on inversion for a full explanation. 

It's very common for il y a to be shortened to y a in casual speech:

 

C'est festif, euh... Y a de la barbe à papa.

It's festive, uh... There's cotton candy.

Caption 32, Actus Quartier - Fête de la rose au caviar rouge

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To sum up, let's review all the uses of il y a in a short dialogue: 

Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? -Je suis en colère parce qu'il y a trop de tableaux au musée du Louvre. Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris et je n'ai pas encore tout vu!
What's wrong? -I'm mad because there are too many paintings in the Louvre. I've lived in Paris for three months and I still haven't seen everything!

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