From La Valse Des Arbres et Du Ciel by Jean-Michel Guenassia, the sentence; on ne force pas son destin, on ne peut en modifier le cours à sa convenance uses « en » in which I assume to be as a pronoun.

But the google translate says on ne peut en modifier le cours à sa convenance translates to "we cannot change the course at our convenience", in the translation the « en » doesn't seem to refer to anything. Can someone please explain what is happening, is google's translation correct?

1 Answer 1


On ne force pas son destin, on ne peut en modifier le cours à sa convenance.

En in this sentence refers to destin. You could rephrase this part as:

on ne peut pas modifier le cours de son destin à sa convenance.

What is happening with Google Translate is not for me to say but I can tell you by experience that it is not the best tool you could use and there are better online translators.

Here's what DeepL returns:

one does not force one's destiny, one cannot change its course to one's liking.

Which to my mind is a much better translation, en which in the French sentence relates cours to destin, being rendered by the possessive adjective "its" which links "course" to "destiny".

Although this is probably not the most frequent use of en as a pronoun we can still encounter it to express "of it/its" "of them/theirs" etc. In French as well in every day speech a possessive adjective would be used instead.

    1. Ces roses sont magnifiques, j'en aime beaucoup l'odeur.
    1. Ces roses sont magnifiques, j'aime leur odeur.

1 & 2 mean the same thing, 1 sounds more literary.

  • Is there a name for when this pronoun is used possessively so I can search it up and read through a bunch more example sentences to get it to sit better in my mind? Sep 7, 2021 at 2:48
  • @Quippy There's no special name for it, en is just a personal pronoun. English doesn't have the exact equivalent of this pronoun (like I→ je, him→ lui etc) and when translating one has to find the way round. I'll think of another example and add it to my answer.
    – None
    Sep 7, 2021 at 6:42
  • I guess one could classify it as a partitive pronoun. It also exists in Italian (ne).
    – theberzi
    Sep 7, 2021 at 11:29
  • @theberzi French does not have partitive pronouns. En as a personal pronoun can replace a noun introduced by a partitive article or an indefinite article (Veux-tu du pain ? - Oui, j'en veux.) But it is absolutely not the case in the OP's sentence.
    – None
    Sep 7, 2021 at 11:39
  • That's why I was hesitant to call it partitive, but I'm not aware of any other name it is given (nor the Italian version, which can also work exactly like in OP's sentence). Calling it a personal pronoun doesn't feel descriptive enough, since it feels (even to an Italian native speaker) markedly different from words like je, lui, lors.
    – theberzi
    Sep 7, 2021 at 11:44

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