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To say "I was there" would you say <j'étais là> or <j'y étais>? Why would you choose one over the other? I understand that both versions literally translate to "I was there" but what are the specific contexts in which you would choose one over the other?

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2 Answers 2

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Both "y" and "là" can mean "there", but there are differences in nature and in usage:

  • "là" is an adverb which can only refer to a place. As an adverb, it can be at various locations in the sentence
  • "y" is a nonpersonal pronoun which stands for any "à + noun" combination - not just locations. It is always placed right before or right after the verb.

See here https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-y-and-la-in-French#:~:text=%22y%22%20is%20a%20relative%2C,%22J'y%20vais%22.

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  • so can you expand on the context where one would be chosen over the other? Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 23:44
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It depends upon whether you want to stress the "was" or the "there".

E.g.:

  • I hear Jean and Jacques had a big argument.
  • I know. I was there! (J'étais là)

Or:

  • I thought you'd be here at the mall.
  • I had to come home. I was there. (J'y étais)

French doesn't make much use of word stress, so the different wording makes it obvious whether "là" or "étais" is the more important word.

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    To give the English without the French misses the point entirely. In any case, I disagree with your analysis of the French in terms of translation.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 15:26
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    @Lambie Can you give your analysis? I'd love to figure this out. Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 23:42
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    @TaylorMitnick I don't know why they closed the question. Personally, I think it was a good question. Bear in mind that J'étais lá, can also mean I was here. (for example) On the phone: Il est là Jean ou pas? Is Jean there or not? Answer: Oui, il est là, Tu veux lui parler? Yes, he is here. Do you want to talk to him? That's another reason they should have left it open.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 14:57
  • I didn't vote either to close the question but the reason why it was closed is explained in the first comment. If you want it to be reopen, edit your question and provide more details about what meaning(s) you expect, give more context, more examples.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 22:23
  • @jlliagre Même sans ces détails, la question n'aurait pas dû être close. J'ai l'impression qu'assez souvent, les gens se dépêchent trop, et que pas mal de questions auraient pu être laissées telles quelles.
    – Oo.
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 19:35

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