14

I encountered this while reading Astérix. The characters are caught in a thunderstorm in the night and the forest goes pitch black in the rain, and Obélix says "On n'y voit plus rien et il pleut!"

I know this translates approximately to "We can't see anything anymore and it's raining!" but I'm not sure why there's an y.

  • Note that even when we wouldn't bother to refer back to the current location in English, French often uses that pronoun (much as en will show up in somewhat vague reference to whatever facts went before). – Luke Sawczak Mar 13 '17 at 5:39
  • See below my other comment, I think the location meaning of this y is weakening. I think it is possible to say je n'y vois plus rien, without any context, just to mean I'm blind, without making reference to any specific location. – Frank Mar 13 '17 at 5:41
20

The other answers have already noted that the y there is originally about a location. I'd like to point out the difference with and without that y.

The sentence je n'y vois rien means that something is preventing you from seeing anything around you, be it darkness, heavy rain, blindness... and has become set in that meaning.

―Il fait complètement noir ici, je n'y vois rien !

Je ne vois rien can be used in the same way, but will more often mean that you can see your surroundings, but you don't see anything relevant to the current situation in there.

―On doit partir, mais j'ai l'impression d'oublier quelque chose...
―Non, je ne vois rien. [Je ne vois aucun objet qu'on doive emporter]

8

In this case, it replaces the location "here". It could be replaced by "On ne voit plus rien et il pleut ici !" "We don't see anything and it rains here!"

  • Quand j'ai vu cette réponse, je me suis demandé si ce y désignait vraiment un lieu. Il est possible que y voir quelque chose soit, ou soit en train de devenir, une expression figée, où le y perd son sens de lieu, à mon avis. Je n'y vois rien peut signifier le lieu, mais aussi peut simplement être une expression, sans mettre l'accent sur un lieu. – Frank Mar 13 '17 at 5:39
  • 1
    Unrelated question, would it not be "cet y" rather than "ce y" since the word begins with a vowel? – temporary_user_name Mar 13 '17 at 5:45
  • @Aerovistae - hmmm ... you may be right. I can't change the comment anymore, but I think you are right. – Frank Mar 13 '17 at 5:47
  • More information on Wiktionnaire: fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/y#Pronom_personnel_1 – A. Hersean Mar 13 '17 at 9:49
5

I am not sure whether that y carries a lot of real meaning or not. It can carry a meaning of location, the y referring to a location understood from the context.

But it can also be perceived as a fixed expression, as is je n'y vois plus rien to mean I'm blind. In reverso, n'y voir que du feu for example, is given as synonym for ne rien voir directly, I think the meaning of location for that y can be quite weak in some contexts.

It would also be common in familiar language to say j'y vois rien to just mean je ne vois rien without necessarily having in mind a location.

3

The reason why there is a y is that it replaces the location of where it happens.

You could also write the sentence like this:

On ne voit plus rien ici(Location), et il pleut.

So the Location is replaced by a y, which is possible in the French language and is often used to answer questions:

Example:

Tu vas aller en France?

Oui, je vais y aller.

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