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I know that "en" can be the "des céréales" in "Je mange des céréales" "J'en mange" and I know it can stand for "one book" in "Je vais acheter un livre" "Je vais en acheter un". But I find it kind of weird in:

Personne n'a écrit un livre sur comment en lire.

(Nobody has written a book on how to read them [books])

It just doesn't look like it fits, because it's in a noun phrase. It's referring to the "livre", which I find very strange, since it feels like it's not referring to books, and instead something else. Does this mean I could say:

J'ai fait un film sur comment en faire

(I made a film on how to write films) (Sorry for similar example)

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  • Is there by chance any context? Jun 17, 2016 at 14:11
  • I basically found it on reverso context while looking up "personne ne"
    – Oboark
    Jun 17, 2016 at 14:14
  • 1
    I think the translation would be more precise like this: "Personne n'a écrit un livre sur comment en lire." -> "Nobody has written a book on how to read one" (rather than them).
    – Phil
    Jun 17, 2016 at 14:36
  • Hmm yeah, but I find it strange how it's mentioning the noun when it's part of a noun phrase.
    – Oboark
    Jun 17, 2016 at 14:37
  • To be factual, there are books that teach how to read (fast).
    – Kii
    Jun 17, 2016 at 15:24

3 Answers 3

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You have correctly identified the usage of en in your cereal example, like in the following:

J'ai acheté des céréales car je mange beaucoup de céréales

becomes

J'ai acheté des céréales car j'en mange beaucoup

The sentence you're asking about follows a very similar logic:

Personne n'a écrit un livre sur comment lire un livre

becomes

Personne n'a écrit un livre sur comment en lire.

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I chanced upon this question just now.

First of all, the preposition "en" isn't out of place when it is perfectly clear what you are referring to by it, even if you haven't mentioned it outright.

To use a vulgar example, if you want to say "I'm gonna punch him in the face" in French, you can say "Je vais lui en coller une". Here "en" refers to "une droite" or "une baffe". But the use of this phrase isn't conditioned on your having earlier spoken about "droite" or "baffe".

In the case of your example, I have a hunch that if we knew the context, the use of "en" in

Personne n'a écrit un livre sur comment en lire.

would be quite natural. Not because "livre" already appears in the sentence, though... in fact, if the previous sentence was about the way people misinterpret what they read in newspapers, "en" could easily refer to newspapers.

Let me also make a separate unrelated point. Some people would take exception to placing "comment" right after "sur". You can look at the following article for more details. I can't vouch for its authoritativeness, but its author seems to have done a lot of lexicographical research.

http://parler-francais.eklablog.com/un-tour-pendable-a130605366

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Personne n'a écrit de livre sur comment les lire.

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