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How To Use The Expression “Il y a” In French

Il y a meaning and use in French

In this lesson you will learn how to say something that you did in the past in French – and in particular how to express “ago”. To say ago in French you must use the word “Il y a”. The pronunciation for this is “Eel yee a” and it has two definitions: “There are” and “Ago”.

Please watch the movie below then read through the practice sentences and explanations. In the first group of practice sentences (see below video) you’ll see Il y a used in its first meaning: There are. In the second group you’ll see it used in its second meaning: Ago. By the way – I’ve also introduced this lesson as it gives you a good chance to practice the passé composé (past tense).

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Note that there are two other great ways of expressing events that took place in the past: Ça fait, which means, “It’s been” and depuis, which means since.

Example sentences

First meaning – there is, there are

  • Il y a deux filles. There are two girls.
  • il y a quelqu’un dans la maison. There is somebody in the house.
  • Il y a beaucoup de gens au chômage. There are a lot of unemployed people.

Second meaning – ago

  • Je suis allé il y a sept ans. I went seven years ago.
  • Elle est venue la première fois il y a un an. She came for the first time one year ago.
  • J’ai lu le livre il y a deux semaines. I read the book two weeks ago.
  • Il a vécu en France il y a vingt ans. He lived in France twenty years ago.
  • Nous sommes allés aux États-Unis il y a un an. We went to the USA one year ago.
  • Vous êtes venus la deuxième fois il y a trois mois. You came for the second time three months ago.
  • Elle a commencé ses études en langues étrangères il y a dix ans. She started her studies in foreign languages ten years ago.
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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on his site,, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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