On is used to refer to an undefined group. The closest equivalent in English is the term one when it is used to refer to an undefined group.
eg: one feels better for the experience. One, as it used here, doesn't mean only one person would feel better. It means everyone would feel better. It is undefined and unlimited. In English such a construction is regarded as formal and is rare.
The French equivalent is on. It refers to an undefined, unlimited group. It is considered an informal form of speech and is very common.
You can consider French on to be equivalent to English one only if you are using one in a formal sense. Thinking of on as equivalent to you plural is misleading because you plural excludes the speaker. On includes the speaker as well as everybody else.
Theoretically, yes but remember that nous is considered somewhat formal in ordinary conversation. I mean, there are no language police around to ensure correct speech like there is in the testing done by Duo. (unless you are in Quebec and then they are only worried about you slipping some English into daily life). No one would be offended by you using on when nous might be more appropriate.
At least that is my understanding as someone who has not and does not engage in conversation with native French speakers.
"Nous" is 1st person plural whenever you want to express that the subject is yourself + at least one other person. However, in the oral and familiar French language, "on" replaces "nous" very often. Please note that "on" is 3rd person singular and therefore is conjugated like il/elle. In some cases you use "on" while it is not a replacement for "nous" but a non defined subject.
- "on a fait ça"=> you don't name the person having done that, you don't know who did that, so the real subject may be yourself, a third party or your counterpart: "I did that" or "he/she/someone did that" or "you did that", or as I said before: "we did that".
This example brings up a tricky issue for English speakers.
This use of one in English appears to refer to one person so it is natural to think someone would apply as well. But one as used here is the exact opposite. It is closer to how everyone is sometimes used in English.
We = defined group that includes the speaker/writer, the listener reader and all others understood by participants. There are actually two groups. The group that is referred to by the use of we. The other group is comprised of all those not included in we.
One (as used in this Duo example) = undefined group that could include everyone, known or unknown. Or not. It is undefined. There is only one group being referred to.
We read the newspaper after supper. A person could quite reasonably ask .....who are you including when you say we? That is because when you say we you are excluding others.
One reads the newspaper after supper. A person could quite reasonably ask....you mean there are no exceptions. That is because one refers to an undefined group that could include absolutely everybody. Using one in this fashion in contemporary English usually suggests the speaker considers that everyone that matters is included. One reads the newspaper (and if they don't, they aren't worth considering)
Generally, English speakers prefer the use of the defined group we, to the point that many are unaware of the English alternative one for the undefined group.
French speakers prefer to use the undefined group on/one. (without the judgement often contained in English one) but do frequently use the defined group nous/we format.
Because we is a defined group with more than one person, it takes the first person plural nous lisons.
Because one (as used in this Duo example) is an undefined group with maybe one person or a billion and is therefore just one group of unknown size, it takes the third person singular on lit.
The trouble is that many, if not most, native English speakers are unfamiliar with the use of one to refer to an undefined group. When they see one as a possible translation of on they believe that it means just one person. To them, it seems like another way to say someone.
When one is used to refer to an undefined group in English it always includes the speaker. So I am wondering if you mean that in French on may sometimes not include the speaker?
I am aware of the difficulty to grasp the idea of an indefinite pronoun that can be someone, we, you, one, they... depending on context.
"on doit se laver les dents après chaque repas": this mode of recommendation is very usual. It does not point to someone in particular but to all of us. You would probably translate it to "we" or "you", depending on your position vs your audience.
"on a pris nos manteaux et on est sortis": note the agreements in plural for this alternative to "nous avons..." = "we put on..."
"il faut qu'on sorte la poubelle": at home, with family, it means: can someone take the garbage out? Clearly, the speaker does no intend to do it. So, depending on the number of family members around, it can be "someone" or "you".
"quand on est triste, il faut pleurer": this could be translated to "one" if you don't want to specifically point to someone in particular, but "you" might be more usual for such a saying.
"on dit que la guerre va encore durer longtemps": probably the information comes from the media, so "they say" could do well.
Thanks for your timely response.
Because one is used so rarely in English (in the sense we are talking about) it seems to have a slightly different meaning in French.
Your example of the garbage discussion with the family illustrates it nicely
In English, saying ...it is necessary that one takes out the garbage..... means that everyone has an obligation to take out the garbage and that if it is not being taken out, everyone needs to participate in finding a solution.
Very often, when one is used that way in English, it is a face saving gesture because social context may indicate that it is indeed a very narrow, defined group that actually has the obligation. The speaker says one even though it is clear that context means in reality it is you, them, someone who will actually take up the obligation. However, the reason that it saves face is because it explicitly says that it includes everybody even if reality dictates that it doesn't actually do so. Since English speakers aren't very big on saving face, the notion of distributing responsibility by using one has pretty well disappeared in English conversation.
From what you are saying, Duo was wrong to reject the answer from JieZhang12 where he used someone as a translation of on.
You can read the other comments on this page to understand why it is that on means more than one person.
To put it in short form, youк own sentence means more than one person. One reads a newspaper before work clearly does not mean only one person in the world reads a newspaper before work.
Read the comments to see why on/one takes third person singular even though it means many more than one person.