In the following,

Il n'est pas encore là. (He isn't here yet.)

Why not use ici? Shouldn't it be, "il n'est pas encore ici?"

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    In casual spoken French, the difference between "here" and "there" is not usually made unless it is necessary for understanding, with là meaning something more like "the place we are talking about." This is different from English, where it is necessary to make the distinction even if it is not relevant to the conversation. Something similar happens to "this" and "that," which are both "ça" in casual spoken French unless there is a need to make a difference.
    – hunter
    Sep 29 '14 at 20:44
  • 3
    @hunter: you could turn this into an answer. Sep 30 '14 at 13:54

Etymologically, ici designates a nearby place and designates a faraway place. (Latin had three gradations; ici comes from the nearmost one (hic), from the furthest one (illac)). However, has evolved in French in such a way that it is often neutral with respect to distance.

In particular, être là means to be present somewhere, regardless of whether that somewhere is the place where the speaker is or not. So “il n'est pas encore là” can be translated by “he isn't present yet”, it can be used whether the statement is about being present at the location where the conversation is taking place or at some location previously mentioned during the conversation. The sentence “il n'est pas encore ici” would also be possible; it would insist on the fact that the location that the statement is about is the location where the statement is uttered.

The adverb là-bas is used to state unambiguously that the location is remote. (Here bas is not connoted towards down, there is no symmetry with là-haut which does mean “up there, “in that remote high place”.) “Il n'est pas encore là-bas” means “he isn't over there yet”.

  • About là-bas, I'd like to mention that ici bas exists but means here under, in the world of the livings and is the opposite of là haut, there above, in the heaven, not of là-bas. Oct 1 '14 at 6:43
  • @Unfrancophone Yes, but noting that ici bas is only about this metaphorical sense (ici bas = Earth where man lives as opposed to heaven/gods/afterlife/…), not in the literal sense of something in a low location. Oct 1 '14 at 6:52
  • être lá can be here OR there. It depends on the context of the speakers: Speaker 1: Il n'est pas lá (bas implied) encore? [on the phone]. Speaker 2: Non, il n'est pas lá. Sp 1: He isn't THERE yet? Sp 2: No, he isn't HERE yet.
    – Lambie
    May 15 '16 at 18:49
  • @Lambie I think your is backwards May 15 '16 at 21:57
  • And you would be right. Là is French and Lá is Portuguese. When I go too fast, I slip up.
    – Lambie
    May 16 '16 at 16:27

European French-speakers have gone further in the process of replacing ici with than have Canadian ones. So while a Canadian might well say "Il n'est pas là" to mean "He's not here," I doubt anyone in Canada would say "Viens là," which is something I've heard people from France say.

  • They mean different thing, is not replacing ici and they are not in complementary distribution either.
    – GAM PUB
    May 16 '16 at 10:51

There is a notion of distance, the same as in English for 'there' and 'here'. So I think you can use whatever rule you use in English. Personally i translate

  • ici -> here
  • Là -> there

Both of your sentences are corrects : "Il n'est pas encore là ?" / "Il n'est pas encore ici ?"

  • 2
    These are the "schoolboy" translations of "ici" and "là". As others have mentioned, the problem is that it turns out not to be strictly accurate: in reality, "là" overlaps with both "here" and "there". Oct 6 '14 at 16:04
  • 2
    It would be dangerous to limit translating "là" as strictly "there." If someone nearby called me and asked where I was, I would probably say "Je suis là !"
    – cccg03
    Mar 11 '16 at 15:57

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