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In many French sentences, the word "en" seems to be directly translatable as "in", for example:

Je habite en France. (I live in France)

On peut parler en japonais. (One can speak in Japanese)

However there seem to be some cases where a complete paraphrasing is needed. For example, using "in" as a replacement here makes no sense:

Tu en as trop. (You have too much of it)

Je voudrais en savoir plus. (I'd like to know more about it)

Can "in" be used in these sentences somehow instead of needing paraphrasing? In what circumstances does "en" carry a different meaning?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

"En" can have different functions:

adverbe: indicates the origine

Il en vient / He comes from there

préposition: indicates a location, a situation, a form, a transformation, a duration, a mean

J'y vais en train / I go by train

Or it can be a gérondif, placed before a verbe : en mangeant, en jouant.

Il buvait sa bière tout en jouant du piano / He was drinking his beer while playing piano.

pronom personnel: De ce, de cela, de lui, d'elle, d'eux, d'elles

Tu n'en sais rien / You know nothing about it

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Both are different words: one is a preposition, while the other is a pronoun. Looking at the definition of en, you'll notice two tabs: EN1, prép. (preposition) and EN2, pron. atone de la 3e pers. (3rd person pronoun).

Only the preposition can adequately be translated by "in"; you should be able to infer easily from the context whether it's a preposition or not.

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