French Subject / Personal Pronoun On: Meaning, Examples

French subject pronoun onThe 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.

je Inous we
tu - you (singular)vous - you (pl, formal)
il, elle, on - he, she, oneils, elles - they

meanings and examples of ‘on’

‘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.

During my private lessons students often ask, which is correct, on or nous? The answer is that you can use both but on is more common when talking with a friend or family member.

par example:

  • 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?
  • On continue. 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.
  • Aux États-Unis, on mange moins bien! People don’t eat as well in the US.

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 oublie ses responsabilités? Are we forgetting our responsabilities?

passive voice.

  • On parle japonais au japon. Japanese is spoken in Japan.
  • On n’a pas encore découvert un vaccin au Covid 19. A vaccination to Covid 19 still hasn’t been discovered.
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