I am trying to find some rules about when and why to use an apostrophe with Y e.g. il n'y a pas .. can anyone help. I am familiar with why we use an apostrophe in other situations e.g. l'enfant, je n'ai pas, .... etc. Thanks for reading.
What are the rules for contracting around the pronoun Y ? Does Y ever contract with the word that follows?
In what cases does Y contract with the word before? For example, why is it J'y vais, but Elle y va? Thanks.
First off, you probably mean “elide” rather than “contract.” Contraction is typically merging a preposition with the following definite article, e.g., de + le = du. Elision is replacing a trailing vowel with an apostrophe before a word starting with a vowel (or mute h) and removing the space between the two words, e.g., le + ours = l'ours.
Second, the pronoun y itself is never elided. How could it? If you elided the y, you'd be left with no letter. Y therefore can't be elided before anything that follows.
The word preceding y is however sometimes elided, but this has really nothing to do with y specifically (beside the fact that it is a vowel). It depends on the word that comes before.
The trailing vowel of nouns and names cannot be elided (e.g., Anne y vaAnn'y va ). Only some articles, pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions can be elided. Most are two-letter words. I'm afraid you need to learn the list by heart. Before y, the most common elided words are pronouns je, me, te, se, le, la, preposition de, and negation ne. But again, you should learn the whole list, which is not specific to y.
A few examples before y:
Marc m'y accompagnera.
Marc t'y accompagnera.
Marc l'y accompagnera.
Marc s'y prélasse.
Marc rêve d'y aller.
Je n'y vais pas.
Elle y va.
Tu y vas.
(Note: You may sometimes hear T'y vas, but this is colloquial and should never be written that way.)
This is because eliding the final e of elle is unnecessary, since it is not sounded.
On the other hand, the final e of je would cause a hidious hiatus (we French people hate hiatuses), so that we mercilessly elide it before a vowel such as y.
I thought that'd help in case you were not fond of lists
When the trailing e is normally not pronounced, there is indeed no elision because there is no need for it.
There are however several exceptions when it is normally voiced… In some cases the normally voiced trailing e actually remains silent. Yet it is not elided graphically:
after subject-verb inversion, e.g., Suis-je assez clair ?Est-ce assez clair ? , not Suis-j'assez clair ?Est-c'assez clair ?
quelque & presque – except in the idiomatic noun phrases quelqu'un and presqu'île, the trailing e is never elided, e.g., quelque amipresque aussi , not quelqu'amipresqu'aussi
lorsque, puisque, quoique – the trailing e of those words is typically elided only before a select few words (usually il(s), elle(s), on, un(e)), e.g., puisqu'elle, but it is usually not elided otherwise, e.g., puisque avec.