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I recently heard somebody say "J'en ai connu", however, I'm slightly confused by the use of the pronoun en. According to my dictionary connaître only seems to be used with "de" when meaning "to know by" (e.g. Je le connais de nom - I know him by name), but I can't think how that would work in this case and it doesn't appear that "en" is replacing a partitive article. So why is "en" being used and what precisely does this phrase mean?

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J'en ai connu means "I knew some of them/these" but without context, we cannot guess what en is referring to, it might be people, events, animals, things, whatever.

Note that normally, connu doesn't agree with the antecedent, e.g.:

Des situations imprévues, j'en ai connu. not …, j'en ai connues.

However, once in a while agreement is done by some authors. See the oqlf.

  • Thanks, I didn't hear the context, so I couldn't say either, but from your answer I can assume the "en" is being used to replace a quantity of something that the person was familiar with. – craig_h Nov 12 '16 at 15:19
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Good question.

en is commonly called pronom neutre and serves to ease up the weight of a sentence and to avoid repetition.

  • Est-ce que t'as eu des problèmes ?
  • Oui j'en ai eu.

It is also defined as being partitif, meaning it serves to indicate that you're talking about a part of a whole (quelques problèmes, de l'ensemble des problèmes) without having to specify wich.

In your example, you were talking about a specific person.

-Je le connais de nom.

Imagine however, you were asked if you ever knew people only by name.

-Connais-tu des gens que de nom ?
-Oui, j'en connais.

From all the people that could be known only by name, you know some.

  • "Connais-tu des gens que de nom ?" is dubious. I would use "Connais-tu des gens uniquement de nom ?" – jlliagre Nov 12 '16 at 21:19
  • Although my phrasing is syntactically correct and semantically clear, it does feel quite heavier on the tongue than yours. However, since it isn't erroneous I will leave the answer unchanged and point out that if ever the need to ask that question arises, I would recommend your version [ : – randomhopeful Nov 12 '16 at 22:47

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