In general, the use of the pronoun en makes a lot of sense to me. But in the course of my reading and other exposure to French, I’ve noticed quite a lot of instances where it has no clear referent/antecedent. For example, I have in front of me an ad on a train ticket that says:

Pour la planète, on en fera toujours moins ».

I can’t see what en is referring to. It’s not even obviously implied, like s’en aller or en vouloir. I’ve seen many such cases and have just passed over it but I’d really like to understand this usage; specifically, when should such a dummy pronoun be used and when not?

  • 1
    Just noticed! That’s a typo. It’s just moins May 28 at 4:45

2 Answers 2


This expression, "en faire moins" is, apparently enough, connected to a family of idiomatic expressions such as "en faire trop" in which the pronoun has lost its grammatical purpose. They are not precisely recorded in the dictionaries (TLFi, Wiktionnaire, Larousse). Le Petit Robert mentions "en faire trop", but in my opinion goes too far in their interpretation as "exagérer"; le sens serait plutôt "avoir une activité plus grande que celle qui est nécessaire".

  • en faire trop, ne pas en faire assez, en faire moins, ne pas en faire tant, en faire assez, en faire plus que qqn,

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(Chasser les mangeurs de temps - Cindy Chapelle · 2022) Du tac au tac : à en faire trop, on perd en qualité tant dans la réalisation des tâches que dans l'ancrage à l'instant présent. Concentrez-vous sur une chose à la fois. : C'est pour demain pourquoi en faites-vous trop ?

(The Widow and the Parrot / La veuve et le perroquet) N'en fais pas tant, James, tu vas te blesser », lui dit-elle en tentant de le calmer. Mais il répétait ses attaques sur les briques toujours plus violemment.

(Les 12 romans les plus célèbres de Charles Dickens ) Vous êtes un vrai démon. vous vous faites cent fois plus de mal qu'il n'est nécessaire, par l'envie que vous avez d'être toujours en avant, et d'en faire plus que les autres.

(Faire passer ses idées en douceur: Convaincre - Pascal Py · 2019) La suggestion d'en faire moins pour en avoir plus, péché mignon des temps modernes, constitue une excellente incitation pour obtenir l'adhésion d'autrui.

Let's consider the usage in the OP. This case has most probably been found here, in the advertisement "Pour la planète on en fera toujours moins".

There is a play on words, the merchandiser having in mind the expression "faire de la pollution", with respect to which "en" has it true function ("on fera toujours moins de pollution pour la planète"), and the idiomatic expression "en faire moins", which can be interpreted as "having less activity". The pun is uncertain though: why suggest a contrary attitude, that of adopting a steadfast negative attitude towards ecological matters? For the mere sake of amusement? It looks that way, and as such there is no great value in it, bar the gratuitous amusement. I'll leave it to the "reader", or should I say consumer, to speculate on possible more substantial implications that this pun might have.


In this sentence en is not dummy. The sentence is meant as a catchphrase to strike the "good for the planet" feeling in one of SNCF's advertising campaigns.
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The copy writer purposely has pour la planète at the beginning of the sentence in order to catch our attention to one of today's big societal issues. In fact when we first read the sentence we expect to have plus and not moins. If the sentence had read as Pour la planète, on en fera toujours plus, "en" would have implied choses or actions.

But the sentence doesn't stand alone, we are supposed to read what follows in small type to get the full meaning : en polluant moins. The first sentence means Pour la planète on fera toujours moins de pollution. En stands for pollution.

If we had the sentence :

Pour la planète, on en fera toujours plus.

as I said above, en would imply choses (or actions). The sentence could also be written without en (Pour la planète on fera toujours plus), which, to my mind would have less impact than when the object is repeated.


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