The French Subject Pronoun “On”

Understanding the Multiple Uses of ‘On’ in French

On is a versatile subject pronoun in French, and its usage often confuses French learners. It’s essential to understand its different meanings and contexts. Let’s dive in!

1. On as “We”:

Traditionally, “on” has an indefinite meaning similar to “one” in English. However, in informal modern French, it’s often used to mean “we.” This use is especially prevalent in spoken French.


  • On va au cinéma ce soir.
    (We’re going to the movies tonight.)

2. On as “One” or “People” (general sense):

In formal contexts, “on” can be used to make generalizations, similar to “one” or “people” in English.


  • On ne doit pas fumer ici.
    (One shouldn’t smoke here.)

3. On as “Someone” or “They” (indefinite sense):

“On” can be used in an indefinite sense to mean “someone” or even “they” when the subjects aren’t specified.


  • On a sonné à la porte.
    (Someone rang the doorbell.)

4. “On” in Passive Constructions:

While French often avoids passive voice in favor of active constructions, using “on” is one method to get around it.


  • On m’a dit que tu étais malade.
    (I was told that you were sick.)

5. Note on Verb Conjugation with “On”:

When conjugating verbs with “on,” always use the third person singular form, which is the same as the il/elle form.


  • On parle français ici.
    (People speak French here.)

In Summary:

The subject pronoun “on” is a versatile tool in the French language. Whether referring to “we,” making generalizations, or using it in an indefinite sense, understanding and practicing its usage will enrich your French conversations. Remember to always conjugate the verb in the third person singular form when using “on.”

Leave a Comment