The French subject pronoun on has translates literally to ‘one’ but has many meanings. On serves as an equivalent to the subject pronoun nous. This is the most common usage. On can also be used to create a passive voice. This page will examine its multiple meanings with lots of example sentences.
Pronoun meaning, one, we or people in French
How To Use The Pronoun “On” In French
On equates to nous for to mean we
The most common usage in spoken French is on replacing nous. On is almost always used when discussing plans with people in your group.
|tu - you (singular)
|vous - you (pl, formal)
|il, elle, on - he, she, one
|ils, elles - they
During my private lessons students often ask, which is correct, on or nous? The answer is that you can use both but on may be slightly more common when talking with a friend or family member.
Here are some examples of how the pronoun on is commonly used:
On va à la plage?
Shall we go to the beach?
Ou on va au restaurant?
Or shall we go to the restaurant?
Qu’est-ce qu’on fait?
What shall we do?
Let’s move on.
Indefinite person usage
Another usage is simply an indefinite person, or “one”. In translating the following examples, “one” could also be replaced with “you” in spoken English.
On ne peut pas tout savoir.
One cannot know everything.
On ne sait jamais!
One never knows! (You never know.)
- Comment est-ce qu’on utilise ce mot? How do you use this word?
- Comment dit-on _ en français? How do you say _ in French?
Used for giving instructions or commands
On is commonly used in giving instructions in sports or music.
On plie les jambes.
Bend your legs.
- On joue une note à la fois. Play one note at a time.
People in the general sense
On can also simply mean ‘people’.
En France, on mange bien.
In France people eat well.
Indirect language usage
Sometimes on can be used in the place of tu. This is a form of indirect language.
Alors, on ne travaille pas trop dur aujourd’hui?
So, we’re not working to hard today?
On parle japonais au japon.
Japanese is spoken in Japan.
Félicitations! Congratulations! You’ve now mastered how to use the pronoun on in French. In French, there are two ways to say you: tu and vous. Knowing when to use which form of you can take some time to comprehend. This next lesson covers tu vs. vous in detail.