Nous y travaillons jour et nuit.
noo zee trah-vah-yaw ZHOO ray NWEE. Click below to hear this.
We’re working on it night and day.
Working on what? We can’t tell, can we? That’s because y stands in for whatever it is. When you want to say to work on something, you don’t use sur, which typically describes the physical location of something (on), but travailler à.
Then, if you don’t want to name the thing (for instance, maybe you just said it in your previous sentence), you can substitute y for à + the thing.
Does that sound like double talk? Here’s an example. Take yesterday’s and today’s sentences and string them together: Les problèmes sont en passe de se resoudre. Nous y travaillons jour et nuit. in this case, we are working on it becomes we are working on them: les problèmes.
By the way, according to my very unscientific observation, it seems to me that English speakers are slightly more likely to say night and day, while French speakers are slightly more likely to say jour et nuit.
Whether this is true or not, there is a reason that holds true for both languages why it could be true. It has to do with vowels and consonants. If you say nuit et jour or day and night, the vowel at the end of the first word tends to slide into the second word: dayn night, nuié jour.
By reversing the order, you get three clear syllables, even if you collapse and to n, jour et nuit. No elision possible. And that’s appropriate, because the whole point of the phrase is to emphasize how long and how hard you are working, so you want to draw it out.
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