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In a casual email, I just wrote:

Mais avant tout, si j’en suis là où je suis aujourd’hui, c’est justement parce que je suis très bien entouré ; mes collaborateurs, qui en connaissent un rayon, y sont sans doute pour beaucoup.

By the expression "en connaître un rayon", I wanted to say that my co-workers shine in everything French language, knowing grammar etc inside out. They basically know what they are doing, know their stuff.

If it is obvious from context what field/subject they excel in, is it common to omit "en matière de ...", "sur ...", or "là-dessus" after "rayon"? Does adding those extra words come across as redundant?

If you use other expressions such as "être calé en qch" or "s'y connaître en qch", you do include the idea of "what field/subject", so I'm all the more curious about how it works with "en connaître un rayon".

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Eux, qui en connaissent un rayon, y sont pour qqch.

If the context is clear enough from what was previously mentioned, the word “en” refers to [the French language in this case] and there is no need to specify more, unless there’s a desire to add emphasis.

The possibility to omit has very little to do with the expression being common, since in fact it is not so often used (at least on my end), but it is just common enough to be clear without more details if the general context provides them.

The same would apply for “s’y connaître”, “y” playing in this expression the same role as “en” in the first one:

Eux, qui s’y connaissent, ne sont point étrangers à ma rapide progression, loin s’en faut.

On the other hand, “être calé” is missing any indication about what we might have discussed earlier, so the complete absence of anything to apply it to is not ideal¹. However, one could add some very general term representing the specific subject being discussed without having to fear being too blurry:

Eux, qui sont calés en la matière (i.e. in the subtleties of the French language), y sont pour qqch.


1 In a more relaxed language, “être calé” could perhaps be used as-is, but to the price of a potential ambiguity:

° Eux, qui sont calés, y sont pour qqch.

Now, one could wonder if They are experts in the French language (or whatever is being discussed at the moment), or if they are simply knowledgeable in just about everything about life, the universe and the rest, a polymath in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

  • 1
    Thank you. This has always been on my mind, but if "en" in "en connaître un rayon" refers to what subject, I wonder why you sometimes place "en matière de ...", "sur ...", or "là-dessus" after "rayon"? Is it for emphasis, or to eliminate ambiguity? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Aug 22 '17 at 13:57
  • «Il en connaît un rayon...»en is a pronoun, it refers to sthg known. — «... en biologie»en is a preposition, inescapable when you want to (re)specify the subject of expertise, though it may also, as you mentioned, be some other word or expression («... sur les champignons», «... dans les sports», «... pour tout ce qui touche aux beaux-arts», etc.). Also keep in mind that the first «en» could refer to the part of the sentence immediately following, in which case its nature may remain obscure, for a few seconds, for those hearing or reading it. – ﺪﺪﺪ Aug 22 '17 at 19:00
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You can ommit the usage of the field / subject if you mention it before the current sentence or if it's obviously the subject of your sentence.

If you just wrote the field, the usage of "en matière de ...", "sur ...", or "là-dessus" after "rayon" will be redundant.

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    Si on ne sait pas de quoi ça retourne, en connâitre un rayon peut être n'importe quoi. – Lambie Aug 21 '17 at 22:15

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