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I live in a French-speaking part of the world and still can't wrap my head around "en" as a particle. I came across this sentence today:

un monde sans danseurs n'en est pas un

I usually understand "en" to be used to translate to something like "about it" ex. :

  • Je m'en fous
  • Je n'en sais rien (de ça)

How is the "en" being used in the sentence about a world without dancers? I don't see how it changes the meaning of "A world without dancers isn't one."

Help!

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  • It's because you can't say: un monde sans danseurs n'est pas un whichwould mean A world without dancers is not one [the number]. To say: A world without dancers is not a world, the en has to replace world. I don't know if you can hear that or not, but that's the reason. The verb foutre takes de. Je me fous de cette histoire. Je m'en fous. I don't give a fuck about that story or thing. – Lambie Apr 20 at 18:49
  • Pronouns are not always about meaning. – escarlate adamantine Apr 20 at 21:02
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There are two versions of en. (It sounds like you know the following, but just to be clear...)

One is a preposition. This usually means "in" or "while" (but can mean several other things).

The other is a pronoun. This replaces "de ____", so it could be translated "of it", "of them".

Il reste quelques biscuits. J'en ai mangé trois. (I ate three of them)

If you were to leave off the number, we'd get English "I ate some (of them)".

As-tu essayé les biscuits ? Paul en a mangé (he ate some of them), et il dit qu'ils sont bons.

Now for your world sentence. Suppose we drop en: you'd still have un "one", but you'd have to ask: one what?

This is what en does as a pronoun. It gives us the implicit un (des mondes). "One what? One world."

Ben points out in the comment that you could also repeat the main noun itself:

Un monde sans danseurs n'est pas un monde.

Also, I didn't think about this before, but you could leave out en and have it just mean "A world without dansers isn't one" -- isn't unified and whole. But that's not what you mean, of course :)

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  • Just to write down the full sentence in french : "un monde sans danceurs n'en est pas un" : "en" is a pronoun as explained above. You could also say it without pronoun : "un monde sans danceurs n'est pas un monde". – Ben Apr 20 at 13:04
  • Yes, you have to say en or you get un meaning unfied or whole, precisely. With foutre, it's because on se fou de quelque chose. – Lambie Apr 20 at 18:55
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Let's take your sentence, made more explicit :

Un monde sans danseurs n'est pas un monde.

Let's avoid repetition by using en :

un monde sans danseurs n'en est pas un. [de monde]

Though less common with être, the logic is similar to the classic construction with avoir :

Combien ai-je de frères ? J'ai un frère.

Let's avoid the repetition by using en :

Combien ai-je de frères ? J'en ai un. [de frère]

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