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Before officially asking this question here, I looked it up here, and indeed found some corresponding answers. In this post:

Can "y" be used not just for locations?

Eau qui dort says:

Any locative complement can be pronominalised by y, the preposition used doesn't matter much so long as it's not de. Je me suis assis sur le banc : je m'y suis assis, j'ai réservé une chambre hors de la ville : j'y ai réservé une chambre. Of course, other options are preferred to this locative y in spoken French, but in the formal language, it can and does refer to every kind of locative complement

I would like to check the accuracy of this answer. Can one replace any prepositional phrase that indicates location (regardless of which preposition is the head of the phrase) for Y?

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    I can't find any counter-example. Eau qui dort is certainly right (as he is always I guess). I just updated my reply to include that point.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 11, 2020 at 21:04
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    There is an obvious exception: you can't use it for any construction that would require "en".
    – Circeus
    Jun 13, 2020 at 5:42
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    @Circeus I guess that's what Eau qui dort excluded with "so long as it's not de": Je viens de MarseilleJ'en viens
    – jlliagre
    Jun 15, 2020 at 16:24
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    Right, de takes en, à takes y, but y is not always there. Je pense aux examens=think about exams. j'y pense: think about them. No location here. I think that using these literal translations of French grammar in English is pretty confusing. "Any locative complement can be pronominalised by y". That means nothing to me.
    – Lambie
    Jan 17, 2022 at 19:37
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    @Lambie Eau qui dort didn't wrote y is always "there". Here is what the English sentence means: Tout complément de lieu peut être pronominalisé en "y".
    – jlliagre
    Jan 17, 2022 at 22:56

2 Answers 2

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It is not « location » that is concerned by « y ». It is the replacement for a « complément circonstanciel de lieu ».

How to find such a « complement » ? By answering the question « where does SUBJECT VERB? », aka « Où¹ dort-il ?  » Answer: «  Il y dort. » or « Il dort dans un lit  ». Here, « dans un lit » is the « complément circonstanciel de lieu ».

So, a « CCL » is everything that is postponed in such a complementary precision, at the end of the sentence, that you may replace by « Y » before the verb.

1: notice the accent on top of the U letter.

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  • How is: Il y dort, not a place? He is sleeping there. Where is the subject carrying out the action described by the verb.
    – Lambie
    Jan 17, 2022 at 19:26
  • « there » is a location… even if it is, in my exemple, a COI :) Grammar is evil and I was wrong this time. However, it still applies… for most of the time… your comment about the exams is completely right! Jan 19, 2022 at 7:11
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This is really a comment / query on Gaétan's answer, but unfortunately I don't have the rep to post comments.

Going back to the original example (very slightly modified) of j'avais réservé une chambre hors de la ville, I think you could go on to say j'y passais presque tout mon temps. In that sentence, I believe the y means dans cette chambre, and does not stand for the CCL hors de la ville. If, so, it seems that y does sometimes relate to a location that is not expressed by a CCL, even when the sentence also contains a CCL.

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  • You are right completely :) Y is not necessary a replacement for a CCL, it can be a COI replacement too ; But… it is, in your exemple, a place, whatever the grammatical structure of the sentence object replaced. Jan 19, 2022 at 7:14

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