“On” in French

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“On” in French

Once again we have to talk about the complexity of the French language, for example the word “On” also has many meanings. “On” is a personal pronoun , that is, it is the subject who performs the action of the verb. “On” is conjugated to the third person singular, like “he” or “she”. However, while singular, “on” often refers to multiple people.

The French pronoun “on” does not have an exact equivalent in Spanish, and yet it is one of the most commonly used subject pronouns in everyday French.

It is necessary to know it and how to use it, because it makes your existence much easier.

The word has meaning traditional “one”, “you”, “he / she”, “I”, “them”, etc . However, if you look at modern French, the translation of “On” is usually “we”. The second aspect is that it always replaces the very form of “il”. Example:

  • On croit au recyclage du plastique

(We believe in recycling plastic)

  • On vit dans une péniche

(We live in a houseboat)


When you’re writing, you can eliminate the need for “On” and substitute other subject pronouns like nous. The latter occurs mainly because formal writing, generally to sound “intellectual”, makes use of the nous. So you would see politicians or researchers saying ” Nous” instead of ” On .” But when it comes to speaking, the word often seems to be omitted as it is linguistically a nasal sound. Also, the order in which it is used depends on the context.

So how do you really identify their presence? After reviewing the guide below, you will be able to appreciate some ideas about how this impersonal subject pronoun is used and some general knowledge of it.


As we have been saying, “On” is a nasal sound that implies that the lips are shaped like an “o”. When you say the word, the air is blocked in such a way that it resonates within the nasal cavity. Besides looking almost silent, the second problem is its connection to the letter “N”.

So “on est ” will sound like ” on nait “.


On certain occasions, when it comes to writing in negative, it is very possible that due to the link with “N” (see previous paragraph), the sentence is misspelled.


  • Affirmative : on est anglais (I am English)
  • Negative : on n’est pas anglais (I am not English)

Common mistake: on est pas anglais

“On” is used to talk about people in general. As the statement says, let’s look at an example.

  • Au Canada, on aime bine hoye au hockey

(In Canada, people love to play hockey)

On replaces “Someone”


  • Entre quand on te le demand

(Come in, when we ask you)

On used for passive voice

As long as English has the option of passive-written sentences, then “On” can be used in French.


  • On lui a parlé du monstre

(They told him about the monster)

  • On a été découvert

(They caught us)

On with adjective agreement

Depending on the context, the adjectives must be adapted. This is seen when determining the meaning of “On”. Some contexts retain gender, as it could be a universal truth or fact.


  • On est jolie quand on est enceinte

(One is cute when pregnant)

“On” is replacing “Nous “ , so the adjective used will be plural and the gender will depend on what ‘On’ is substituted for.


  • On est populaire

(We are popular)

On is replacing you / a / people, so the adjective is usually masculine.


  • Quand on a soif, on boit

(When you’re thirsty, you drink)

“On” Used for one

Here, the usage is for the purposes of the impersonal subject pronoun. While this has become rare, let’s look at an example of the cases where you might need it. Who knows what can make you seem knowledgeable in that situation? Currently, however, “nous” and “il” are mainly used instead.


  • On devrait être fidèle à soi-même

(One must be true to oneself)

On Used for Que l’on or Qu’on

French is very particular about the melody of the spoken language and its meaning adds L´ before “On” especially when it comes to Qu ‘on. Due to the similarity of the pronunciation with a vulgar word , Que l’on is written instead. Example:

  • C’est le meilleur des bonbons que l’on ait eu

(It’s the best candy we’ve ever had)

Purpose of adding L ‘

Although l ‘before “on” has no meaning, to avoid vocal clashes and have a soft sound, the addition is made. The suggestion is to look for words like “qui”, “si”, “ou”, “quoi”, “et” and “où”. L’on generally follows these words. With practice this will develop into a reflex response depending on the sound the French ear has learned to hear.


Qui l’on prend y no Qui on prend


  • On laisse tomber and not L’on laisse tomber

(we’ll let it go)

Common erros

Before signing up, let’s see how to avoid some common mistakes.

When “On” is used as a subject pronoun , it is essential to remember that it takes the verb form of just “il”. So it will be on lit ‘, “on fait” and never “on lisez” or “on faisons”, even if “On” replaces nous.

“On” always replaces a living being or an action performed by a human being . It never replaces an idea. This basically means that “On” should not be translated as “it” in English.

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