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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Le pronom "on"

"On" can be an informal "nous" OR a "one",
In any cases, "on" is conjugated like elle/il/ça (3rd person singular)
There's no exception.

HOW TO CONJUGATE "ON"?

Be careful to differentiate the meaning of "on", and the form that its conjugation takes,
they are not the same!
It's a "we" that has a 3rd person conjugation-form, but it doesn't give it the meaning of a 3rd person!!! It's only the written form.

On mange, on joue, on dort.
Elle mange, elle joue, elle dort.
Il mange, il joue, il dort.
ça mange, ça joue, ça dort.

Nous mangeons, nous jouons, nous dormons.

ON MEANING WE

In informal, unwritten conversation, it's very frequent to use "on" instead of "nous".
Some people keep saying it's not correct French, but it's perfectly correct, it's informal, but not slangish at all. You can use it with your teacher in the classroom.

ON MEANING ONE

"On" can be the informal pronoun.
For instance: "One does not change a team that wins" (It's more than probable that the English "one" used for this is from the French "on")

Examples of uses

  • Informal we, conjugated like a he/she/it. (identified people)

  • A general saying, including everyone (but no identified person)
    can be a proverb, or a general statement, not informal at all in this case:

On est lundi. (formal: Nous sommes lundi). Here it's a "we", but also a general statement.
Would be equivalent to the impersonal "C'est lundi".

On perd la mémoire quand on prend de l'âge. (a general truth or a proverb)
One loses his memory when getting older.

Ici, on parle français.
Here, French is spoken.

Il faut qu'on parle.
We must talk together.

C'est comme ça qu'on fait.
It's the way it must be done.
Here: on = everybody. A general statement.

WARNING: THE INFORMAL "ON" IS NOT A "IT"

Even if it's often a person we don't know (when it's the impersonal) "on" is not "it" because it's a person. (opposed to "ce", "ça", "cela"),

"on" is often translated by "it" (when it's not by "we" or "one"), but it's an impersonal =not a particular person who makes the action), but still a person, not a "it".
We don't know this person.

It's not a neutral in the sense that it can't be a thing, it's always a person. See it as an impersonal "we".
Imagine: We (human beings) are forced to work to live. With a very general meaning.

TRANSLATING THE PASSIVE VOICE

"On" can be used when you don't know the subject, to translate the passive voice in English, but it's not a passive voice, it's an active voice, the subject is "on".

"Cashier wanted" = On demande un caissier (voix active, impersonnelle) = Un caissier est demandé (voix passive)

October 22, 2019

34 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/aaaaadammmmm

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you are using 'on' to mean 'we', and are conjugating a verb in a compound tense (e.g. passé composé, passé antérieur, futur antérieur etc.) and it takes 'etre' as the auxiliary, the past participle has to add an s on to the end since the subject implied is plural. For example:

We (informal) went to the shop. = On est allé(e)s au magasin.

This means it would not be treated entirely the same as a verb used with il/elle. Let me say again though that I'm not sure about this.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Yes, the past participle does agree in gender and number.

On est allés.
You're right.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JabyOby

According to the French Academy (the official institute that decides on grammar rules in French), when "on" is used, there is no agreement with the past participle in gender and number : "on est allé".

But usually, French people do not consider this rule and say : "on est allé(e)s" with the agreement. Both uses can be judged correct (anyway it appears mostly oral).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Non, les deux sont corrects. "On" comme masculin singulier, et le "on" avec l'accord.
Même si on est extrêmement puriste, les deux sont corrects.

On peut distinguer les deux sortes de "on", le "on" indéfini, qui s'emploie comme une sorte de vérité générale, et qui n'a pas de genre = donc prend le genre grammatical masculin singulier. C'est une sorte de neutre.

Et le "on" genré, parce que si on emploie "on" pour dire "nous", on sait tout de même de qui nous parlons avec précision.

Le pronom indéfini on est normalement masculin singulier : On était resté bons camarades (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables). Néanmoins, dans certains cas, il est facile de déterminer de façon précise qu'on parle d'une femme ou de plusieurs personnes ; on est alors suivi du féminin ou du pluriel par syllepse. On est pincées, posées, méfiantes (Colette, Les Vrilles de la vigne). L'académie considère toutefois que on, à la place d'un pronom personnel de la 1re ou de la 2e personne et suivi d'un participe féminin ou pluriel, appartient à la langue familière. Cette construction se rencontre pourtant chez de bons auteurs : On était perdus dans une espèce de ville (H. Barbusse, Le feu).

Bref, que ce soit une construction familière ou non, on s'en moque un peu, on ne cherche pas à écrire un essai, et de plus, l'accord est parfaitement logique (sauf avec "on" indéfini).

Edit: Et il y a aussi, par exemple des phrases comme: "On est belles", qui se dirait "On est beau" en parlant de 2 ou 3 filles, si on considérait toujours le "on" comme un indéfini neutre (= non genré), ce qui serait totalement ridicule.

Alexandra et Jeanne = Eh, qu'est-ce qu'on est beau!

ça conduit à ce genre de situation ridicule...
Quand on applique les règles, il y a toujours des limites à ces règles, il faut du bon sens.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/aaaaadammmmm

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of l'Academie Française. I don't understand why a language needs to be governed like that when language should be allowed to naturally develop and evolve in response to changes in society. For example, there's quite an opposition towards anglicisation of French, and the Academy advocates for the usage of more French alternatives even if it's just an inconvenience since a foreign loanword is already in widespread usage. Just my opinion.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/abbiezinn

Wow, you are learning a lot of languages!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

On est allés meaning we went ... On est heureuse meaning we are happy if 'we' are female . "On" meaning we is informal (langage parlé) Whereas "nous" is the correct pronoun .


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Nous is not more correct than "on". Both are correct, and both have been taught to us in schools, and we were forced to learn how to conjugate the "on", so you can't say one is correct, and the other is not.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

Le premier sens du pronom on n'est pas "nous " mais une personne indéterminée On a volé ma voiture Ou pour dire une généralité "On dit que On pense que "dans le sens de les gens disent que ... "On" a la place de "nous" ne m'a jamais été enseigné à l'école et pour cause il appartient au langage parlé ! On apprend pas à conjuguer les verbes en disant " nous ,on se lave " Mais " nous nous lavons ". On enseigne pas la langue parlée à l'ecole . Nous est le pronom le plus correct pour dire ....NOUS.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Que ce soit ou non le premier sens, les deux usages sont maintenant parfaitement corrects. (on ne parle pas du français du XVI siècle et encore, il faudra vérifier, je ne suis même pas sûre que cet usage n'était pas déjà présent)

Il ne faut pas confondre usage informel & correct, avec usage incorrect.

Dire que "on" utilisé pour "nous" n'est pas correct, je ne sais pas quelles sont les références, y compris de l'Académie pour affirmer cela.

L'Académie dit simplement que l'usage est très familier, et c'est un choix de langue.
Dans une langue, plusieurs registres existent, le registre très soutenu, le registre normal, le registre familier, et tous peuvent être totalement corrects.

Si l'Académie avait voulu utiliser "incorrect" à la place de familier, je pense qu'elle maîtrise suffisamment le français pour le faire.

Note: si on peut me présenter quelqu'un qui ne dit jamais "on" pour dire "nous", je serais très heureuse de rencontrer cet être unique en France.

Ce que dit l'Académie, c'est simplement d'éviter d'utiliser "on" à toutes les sauces comme on l'entend maintenant. Les gens ne sachant plus utiliser le "nous".


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

Je suis d'accord avec vous . De nos jours ,"on" a la place de "nous" est devenu banal dans les conversations quotidiennes... Mais à l'écrit il vaux mieux utiliser "nous " . Bravo pour avoir expliqué avec brio ce point de grammaire aux apprenants de la langue française.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

On a mangé meaning nous avons mangé. On est allés au cinéma meaning nous sommes allés au cinéma.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/starmi23

For all you French learners: It sounds complicated, right? It would to me if I was in your position as someone learning French without a teacher. When you start to converse frequently in French, it will all make much more sense, don't worry. Lol.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Tracy382545

When I learned french "on" was for "one" or "everyone". So, We never used it as much as "nous". Now, that I know that "on" is used more I will remember that. :) I was also taught that "Il faut que" meant "it is necessary". So, for the usage of "must" it would be "Dois" "Je dois telephoner ma mere". ( I must call my mother). "Il faut que marcher tous les jours" (It is necessary to walk every day). So, it just seems odd to me to use il faut que for "must" instead of "Je Dois". There are so many ways of saying things that it was taught to me like this to "simplify" things when learning the language. I was told "must" is "stronger" form of "have to" Vous devez manger"! (You must eat) because it's for survival. "il faut que" it's necessary, but not for "survival". I'm GRATEFUL that you put this explanation of "on" being used. I'm learning "new" ways to use french all the time. :) Thanks Perce_Neige! :) You're HELP is GREATLY appreciated! :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

It's the difference between French taught in schools and real French.
(And often, I'm a kind of purist for a lot of grammatical topics)

It depends which kind of French you talk. There is several registers of languages, in everyday French "on" is valid for "nous". And you will meet this use a lot...
So, you have to learn it.

In very formal French, it's wrong. If you write a letter to your teacher, your boss, etc.. it should be avoided to remain formal.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Tracy382545

Thanks for that! :) Keep up the GREAT posts! :) Have a lingot! :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/abbiezinn

I was having trouble with the pronoun "on" in my French course. Merci beaucoup!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Randybvain

What is a reflexive pronoun associated with on? Is it se (On se lave) or nous (On nous lave)?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Good question.
It's like "il/elle/ça", so it's "se".

On nous lave = someone else wash you, not a reflexive.
Everything is like il/elle/ça in the form, but everything is like "we" in the meaning.

Reflexive: On se lave. Nous nous lavons.
Meaning: We wash ouselves, or One washes oneself.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

Someone else "washes "you ...3ème personne du singulier présent simple . One washes ...


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

One loseS his memory . Lose à la 3ème personne devient loses au présent simple .


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Iz9MhJC0

Faut sacrément du courage pour expliquer en détail de telles parties de la grammaire française, je te félicite. Certains Français (pas mal d'entre eux) eux-mêmes ne savent utiliser correctement leur langue maternelle, rassurez-vous chers apprenants.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

En expliquant la langue aux autres, ou en tentant de le faire, on apprend beaucoup sur la langue. Il y a beaucoup de choses dont on n'est même pas conscients en tant que native.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

"Native" est un anglicisme. Francophone ne serait-il pas plus approprié ?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

Effectivement, un anglicisme si utilisé comme ceci sans le "de...".

Mais on peut entendre ça par "natif" d'un pays, sous-entendu: je suis native de France, je suis native d'Auvergne. ça se dit depuis plusieurs siècles.

Native de France, donc francophone.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

Vous avez raison, on dit aussi "locuteur natif " je viens de regarder le dico .


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SusanRankin1

Personally I just consider "on" to mean "one". But UNLIKE one in English, on is not very formal or downright snooty, like it is in English. In fact French mommies will say with great happiness "On y va!" to their preschoolers meaning HEEEEEEERE we go!!!!!! That works for conjugating and everything.

Of course I learned by ear as a young teen suddenly immersed so, I am NOT Alliance Francaise!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/NSE104165

These are great tips, but I'm confused by your example "On est lundi". "We are Monday" or "One is Monday" don't make any sense in English. Is this a context where "On est" can be translated as "It is"? The English pronoun "one" always has to represent a person, even if it's an unknown general person, but there's no person for the "On" in "On est lundi".


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/PERCE_NEIGE

We can say "Nous sommes lundi", it's just the idiomatic way to say "Today is monday" in French.

Can be also said "Aujourd'hui, c'est lundi", but the "on est lundi" is more common, or at least, very common.

It's a kind of "on" impersonal. It doesn't include only the people saying nous/on, but everyone .
It has a value of general truth, general statement.

"On" to express a generality, is also used in "C'est comme ça qu'on fait".
On = everybody.

Comment faire ses lacets?
Il faut passer le lacet dans la boucle.
Pourquoi?
C'est comme ça qu'on fait! (It's the way it has to be done, everybody (on) do that like this)

On ne se réveille plus quand on est mort.

Here, you can't replace with "nous".
One doesn't wake up when dead.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CHERIFL

"On est lundi"or " nous sommes lundi " are french idiomatic expressions . You cannot translate them into english literally . You're right here "on " doesn't represent anyone but days ... It means it's monday "for everyone", it's a general truth .


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/NSE104165

Another question--It's clear that "on" can replace "nous" to mean "we" when used as the subject of the sentence. Is there an analogous informal replacement when "nous" means "us" as the object of the sentence?

For example, translating "We visit you." -- "Nous te visitons." or "On te visite." Both correct.

Turn it around to "You visit us." -- "Tu nous visites." Could this also be said "Tu se visites" with "se" being the objective form of "on"? It seems to me that would be too ambiguous as "se" also means "him/her/it", but I thought it's worth asking if this is an accepted phrasing.

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