On = we, one, people

On : we

Look at these examples:

On est très proches, ma soeur et moi.
We are very close, my sister and I.


On va au cinéma ce soir
We're going to the cinema tonight.


On y va!
Let's go!

This use of "on" is for a specific group of people of which you're part: e.g. 'My friends and I'.

Here "on" is equivalent in meaning to "nous" (we), though they aren't followed by the same conjugation of the verb:

On est gentils.
We're nice.


Nous sommes gentils.
We're nice.

See also Nous vs on (subject pronouns)

On : one/you/people

You can also use 'on' in a more general sense like this:

Si on travaille dur, on gagne plus
If you work hard you earn more

Here "on" includes Men/people in general, or can be a theoretical statement such as"one <does that>".

This form is often used when expressing rules such as:

On ne doit pas parler la bouche pleine.
People mustn't speak with their mouths full.

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

On est gentils.
We're nice.


On ne doit pas parler la bouche pleine.
People mustn't speak with their mouths full.



Nous sommes gentils.
We're nice.


on = one/you/people/we


Si on travaille dur, on gagne plus
If you work hard you earn more


on = we


On va au cinéma ce soir
We're going to the cinema tonight.


On est très proches, ma soeur et moi.
We are very close, my sister and I.


on = we/us


On y va!
Let's go!


Q&A

Riya

Kwiziq community member

17 March 2019

1 reply

where do we use on?

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

18 March 2019

18/03/19

I'm not sure what you mean by where? In what kind of situation? On is more informal than nous. So in writing and formal situations, you'd use nous more often while you'd use on in casual conversations and writing (like texts and emails to a friend).

Jan

Kwiziq community member

10 March 2019

4 replies

Pense-t-on means`Is it thought'?

Pense-t-on que Caligula était fou?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

11 March 2019

11/03/19

Hi Jan, 

If you take a look at the following lesson on the passive voice, using 'on' is one of the way to avoid  it...

https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/glossary/voice/la-voix-passive-passive-voice.

When you don't know who 'on' refers to -

On dit qu'il est parti sans payer = it is said the he left without paying

On a trouvé une carte d'identité dans le jardin = An identity card has been found in the garden

Hope this helps!

Chris

Kwiziq community member

11 March 2019

11/03/19

Yes, pense-t-on means "Does one think..."

It could also mean "Do we think" but the inverted form of the question, which is used primarily in a higher register of French, clashes with the more colloquial use of on meaning "we".

Jan

Kwiziq community member

11 March 2019

11/03/19

So, to make a question, just inflect `On dit/peut dire que Caligula était fou? 

Jan

Kwiziq community member

11 March 2019

11/03/19

Good point about mixed registers, thanks.

Faithandrews

Kwiziq community member

8 March 2019

1 reply

Also, On can be used to refer to ''you'' as in lots of people but I thought that was the translation/ role of Vous?

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

18 March 2019

18/03/19

Vous as a plural pronoun adresses a specific group. You--group of people--that I'm talking to right now. On is more general and also more...all encompassing, for lack of a better word. 

To illustrate this with a sentence:

Vous ne devriez pas vous battre-- You two people that I'm talking to shouldn't fight.

On ne devrait pas se battre-- People in general shouldn't fight

I hope that helps (and makes sense).

Faithandrews

Kwiziq community member

8 March 2019

1 reply

since On is used to refer to we/ people etc, why does it make use of the subject verb conjugation of il/elle. eg il est/ on est. Instead of On sommes

Sorry, if my questions may sound dumb but i am a curious person. Not satisfying my curiosity can keep me in a blank world of confusion.

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

18 March 2019

18/03/19

Technically on is the equivalent on "one" meaning one hypothetical person. In English, we also conjugate this in the third person singular. "One is" not "One are" even though "One is responsible for ones own life" can very well mean "We (people) are responsible for our own lives). 

Of course on is also used in ways one cannot be used, to mean we. My guess (and this is just that, a guess) is that the plural usage of on came into use long after its conjugation in third person singular was established and people just kept saying "On est" even in cases where it means "we". It is indeed interesting to think about

Liz

Kwiziq community member

25 February 2019

4 replies

Is it true that the pronouns on and nous can be used anytime we want to indicate we? I’ve heard that using nous is more formal, but is it wrong?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

25 February 2019

25/02/19

Hi Liz,

Indeed you are right, the French will use 'on' for 'nous' all the time that is why teaching it is so important....

In formal written form, 'nous' will be more elegant...

Hope this helps!

 

Faithandrews

Kwiziq community member

8 March 2019

8/03/19

so they can be interchangeably  but french speakers use ''on'' on daily basis. while ''nous'' is used mostly for very formal and written form?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

9 March 2019

9/03/19

In a nutshell yes....

Faithandrews

Kwiziq community member

14 March 2019

14/03/19

Thanks for you reply.

Jane

Kwiziq community member

22 February 2019

1 reply

On mange du fromage ce matin?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

27 February 2019

27/02/19

Do you have a question, Jane?

Don

Kwiziq community member

26 December 2018

0 replies

isn't on third person singular and those can mean like we us one in english, "one goes...

Paola

Kwiziq community member

10 December 2018

2 replies

Why don't we pronounce the first "que" in "On a que ce que l'on mérite?"

I saw this on the video. Thank you.

Steve

Kwiziq community member

10 December 2018

10/12/18

Interesting.

I think the "normal" idiom in French is:

"On n'a que ce que l'on mérite." (literally: one only has that which one deserves).

For the purposes of that video, and to bring it into line with the English idiom, I think the n' has been removed, but not the "que".

I think it should read:

"On a ce que l'on mérite." (literally: one has that which one deserves).

So the orator didn't pronounce the first que, because he didn't think it was there. If he knew it was there, he would have removed it (that's what I think has happened here anyway).

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

11 December 2018

11/12/18

Hi paola,

This is a third party resource so we have no control over it but a good point nevertheless.

I would argue that if you use 'ce que l'on ' ( which could have been 'ce qu'on') you should have 'on n'a' ( with the 'ne' explétif ) to keep the same register .

On n'a que ce que l'on mérite...

Eve

Kwiziq community member

6 December 2018

2 replies

One must sleep at night

Why would you say "Il faut dormir la nuit." instead of "On faut dormir la nuit" for "One must sleep at night"

Chris

Kwiziq community member

6 December 2018

6/12/18

You can say either:

On doit dormir la nuit. Or Il faut dormir la nuit.

Il faut already means "one must" or "it is necessary".

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

6 December 2018

6/12/18

Hi Eve,

The verb 'falloir' only has one form - an impersonal il ---- Il faut

It is similar in meaning to the impersonal 'on doit ..."

If you also look at my answer to a similar question: 

https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/questions/view/il-faut-1

Hope this helps!

Shari

Kwiziq community member

31 October 2018

3 replies

Why can «On ne peut pas stationner ici» mean ‘You cannot park here’ but not ‘We cannot park here’? The verb tense doesn’t match either.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

1 November 2018

1/11/18

Hi Shari,

'On ne peut pas stationner ici'    is     'You cannot park here'...

The you here applies to everyone, in other words,  it is forbidden to park here.

It is a bit like: 

On ne sait jamais ce que nous réserve l'avenir = You never know what the future holds

Which is a saying for a truth that applies to everyone.

Not sure what you mean about the verb tense not matching...

Shari

Kwiziq community member

1 November 2018

1/11/18

Thanks, Cécile.  I selected all three in my quiz answer - One, You and We - but the answer was just One and You.  I was trying to figure out how I could decipher why We was not included and thought the form of the conjugation (sorry, not tense) ‘peut’ might be an indication.  But ‘peut’ matches the third person spelling so that left me with the question of why You and not We.

Alan

Kwiziq community member

1 November 2018

1/11/18

Hi Shari,

All 3 are correct - I just tried the question myself and it accepted all 3.

With these multiple selection questions, I sometimes find that one of the answers I was sure I had selected is missing. Then it can be confusing when you compare the correct answer with what you supposedly entered. Maybe that's happened to you.

I have a feeling there may be a bug somewhere - perhaps if you click on the answers too quickly.

How has your day been?