Modern Spoken French: How to Use “On” Part 2

Last week, we looked at some different ways to use “on”, one of the fundamentals of modern spoken French. And surprise, there is still more to learn!

This lesson was created with intermediate (B1/B2) and advanced learners in mind. If you’re a beginner (A1/A2), don’t worry if you don’t understand everything in this lesson. For you, I highly recommend focusing on the conjugations of important French verbs in the present tense first. Just try to follow along as much as you can.

No matter your level, be sure to check out part one of this lesson here if you haven’t already.

Knowing how to use “on” is very important, as it’s a very important part of knowing how to speak modern French. It’s a really simple way to sound more French when you speak, and quite easy to understand no matter your level. Let me show you. 🙂

By the end of this lesson, you will:

  • Understand the meaning of “on” in modern spoken French.
  • Beginner: learn how to conjugate verbs with “on.”
  • Intermediate: build authentic full French sentences with “on.”
  • Advanced: discover advanced words with “on.”

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1) L’accord du participe passé et des adjectifs avec “on.”

In part one of the lesson, we already saw that “on” replaces “nous” in modern spoken French:

Nous mangeons une glace. → On mange une glace.

But, when we do this it means that “on” is representing several people. On = plusieurs personnes !

So what happens with the participe passé? Let’s look at an example: Nous sommes allées au cinéma. We assume that the sentence is talking about two women, deux femmes.

If we replace it with on, we write: On est allées au cinéma. As you can see here, the participe passé agrees with the pronoun, and because the pronoun “on” is representing several people the participe passé also agrees with several people.

For adjectives, it’s exactly the same:

Nous sommes contentes de te revoir. → On est contentes de te revoir.

Both adjectives add “es” to the end because there are two women talking.

Advanced learners: This rule doesn’t apply if “on” is being used as “un pronom indéfini” or to change the tone or context of the phrase. We touched on this briefly in section 2 of part 1 of this lesson.

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2) Le déterminant possessif avec “on.”

If you know French a little bit, your second question after understanding the rules of “on” and the participe passé will probably be: how does le déterminant possessif agree with “on”?

(And if you don’t know these grammar terms, don’t worry. I’m giving them to you so you learn, and you can Google them later if you need to.)

Once again, we saw that “on” replaces “nous”:
Nous mangeons une glace. → On mange une glace.

But what happens when we say: “Nous mangeons notre glace.”?

Do we say ““On mange sa glace.” ? No. This is a use of “on” as pronom indéfini.

Instead, it’s much easier. In fact, it’s used in exactly the same way as for the “participe passé” and adjectives we just saw.

Nous mangeons notre glace. → On mange notre glace.

Pro tip: keep “on = nous” in your head all the time. Ignore everything else, as the rest of the phrase stays exactly the same.

3) La dislocation avec “on.”

Heads up: If you’re B1/B2, don’t worry too much about what’s coming next. Absorb what you can, but don’t stress – this stuff is pretty advanted.

Let’s talk about “la dislocation du sujet”. It’s something you’ve probably heard in TV shows and movies. It’s not anything new, but we are using it more and more in modern spoken French – less in written French.

Some people say it’s childish French, but I disagree. If you know how to use it correctly, it’s simply a way to insist on a topic.

Let’s look at this example: Moi, j’aime la glace à la fraise. Me, I like strawberry ice cream.

Here, we are repeating the subject to insist on the fact that we really like it.

But what about “on”? What do we put at the beginning so we can insist: “???, on aime la glace.”?

Let’s look at the sentence in more detail:

  • Moi, j’aime la glace à la fraise.
  • Toi, tu aime la glace à la fraise.
  • Lui, il aime la glace à la fraise.
  • Elle, elle aime la glace à la fraise.
  • Nous, nous aimons la glace à la fraise.
  • Vous, vous aimez la glace à la fraise.
  • Eux, ils aiment la glace à la fraise.
  • Elles, elles aiment la glace à la fraise.

The first part (moi, toi, etc.) is le pronom tonique. The second part (je, tu, etc.) is le pronom personnel. This is followed by le verbe (aimer) and le complément (la glace à la fraise).

But what pronom tonique do we use with “on”? The easiest answer is to use “nous”: Nous, on aime la glace à la fraise. This is a very authentic, modern French way to tell people that you (collectively) really love strawberry ice cream, but the others don’t.

If you’re a big grammar nerd (like me), here are some useful resources for you (but don’t freak out if not, these are very advanced):


Utilise “on” à la place de “nous”

Nous sommes allées au cinéma. (nous = Caroline et moi)
On _______________________.

Nous prenons notre voiture pour partir en vacances.
On _______________________.

Caroline et moi, nous sommes contentes de notre séjour en Corse.

On est allées au cinéma.
On prend notre voiture pour partir en vacances.
Caroline et moi, on est contentes de notre séjour en Corse.

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4) Advanced French with “On”

Let’s look quickly at a more advanced lesson with two examples.

Le qu’en-dira-t-on = l’opinion des autres (literally, “what are they going to say about it”)
Les on-dit = les rumeurs (literally, “the we-say”)

These are usually used in reference to gossip.

Finally, “on” is also often linked to l’euphonie, or how to make sounds fit together. This is very French. For example, when often we add a capital “L” when describing the place where we live:

L’euphonie: on → l’on (as in “Le pays où l’on habite”)

There’s no real reason for this. It just sounds better!

Et toi ?

What were you struggling with about “on” before that’s now clear?
Tell me in French, using “Avant, j’avais du mal avec… Aujourd’hui, j’ai compris que…”

Let me know in the comments below.

And don’t forget to share this lesson with a francophile friend who might enjoy it! As always, if you want more lessons on spoken French, check out our 10-day Everyday French Crash Course. It’s free!

Bonne journée,

Join the conversation!

  • I have just discovered your wonderful site while researching a question of the usage of “on”, and I’m not sure I understand yet. I knew about the adjective agreement, but what about a sentence that uses a reflexive verb further on – Ex: We can park here. Is it On peut se garer ici, or On peut nous garer ici?

    • Bonjour Diana,
      Excellent question! “On peut SE garer ici” because the verb is “à l’infinitif”. You say similarly “On peut manger ici”. (manger = se garer : both infinitive)
      BUT “On peut NOUS voler nos bagages”. I assume this example is more appropriate to what you were asking.
      Glad you found Comme une Française ! 🙂
      Feel free to tell me if you want to discuss this deeper.

      • Thank you for your reply. I fear I’m more confused than ever. “On peut nous voler nos bagages” Unless I’m really missing something, this means, “They (someone) can steal our luggage.” But what I was curious about is when we use “on” to mean “we”.

        You point out that we say, “On prend *notre* voiture pour partir en vacances” – not “*sa* voiture”. But to say “we can park”, we don’t say, “On peut *nous* garer”, just the usual “On peut se garer”, even when “on” means “we”. Have I got that right?

        • On peut se garer–> means anyone, anyone can park here, it is allowed to park here, that’s why we don’t say “nous garer”
          On peut NOUS voler nos bagages–> anyone or someone can steal “to US” our luggage, that’s why “nous voler”

        • Hi Diana!

          You’re absolutely right.
          That’s French grammar for you 🙂 it’s confusing!

          “On” can be both the indefinite “They,” then it uses the third person pronoun and adjective etc.
          –> On a construit cette maison en 1700 (= They built this house in 1700 / This house has been built in 1700)
          On a volé vos bagages ! (= They stole your luggage!) / On a volé nos bagages ! (= They stole our luggage)…

          Basically, this is the “active” form of the passive voice: you could say “Nos bagages ont été volés !” (= Our luggage has been stolen) without losing any information.

          “On” can mean “We” in informal French –> Then we use “nos / notre” (our), “se” as reflexive direct pronoun (especially in pronominal verbs like “se laver” / “se garer”.) When we use “nous” as an object pronoun with “on,” we understand “On” as “They / someone else.”

          So “On peut se voir ?” = “Pouvons-nous nous voir ?” = Can we see each other (some day / soon) ?
          While “On peut nous voir ?” = “Peut-on nous voir ?” = Can we be seen ? / Can “they” see us ?

          Now for the extra mile: the tricky question is that we should also use the plural (and gender) for adjectives after “on”.
          When it means “They / Someone unkown”, it’s a “normal” third person singular neutral / masculine.

          But when it means “we”, the adjectives agree as if it were “Nous,” with the relevant gender. For example, a woman can say:
          “Mon amie et moi, on est heureuses.” (= My friend and I, we are happy – in the feminine plural)

          In conclusion: French grammar is a rabbit-hole.

          Have a great day,

          – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • Bonjour chere Geraldine,
    Comment allez vous? J’au recu votre email aujurd’hui. Merci beaucoup pour votre gentillesse jeune fille. Vous avez rendu ma journée heureuse {Comme nous, Australiens disent : you made my day mate} en écrivant: “Peu importe qu’ils soient” Parisiennes “,” Bordelais “,” Grenoblois “… vous trouverez ces” atomes crochus “. Vous en savez déjà beaucoup plus sur notre langue et de la culture que beaucoup (charmants) «touristes anonymes». Si ma chère maman, Susan, qui adorait la culture et la musique françaises, serait toujours vivante, elle aurait été ravie de lire ce compliment, et que j’etudie sa langua.
    Merci beaucoup encore fois pour les lecons tres interessants.

  • Merci beaucoup Géraldine.
    Maintenant je comprends qu’il faut faire l’accord du participe passé et des adjectifs quand on utilise ‘on’. Avant je ne le savais pas du tout.

  • Moi non plus, je ne savais pas que le participe passé s’accorde avec le pronom quand l’on utilise “on” ! Je suis vraiment bouleversée de savoir combien j’étais ignorante !!!

    Merci beaucoup, Géraldine.

  • Tout d’abord, merci mille fois Géraldine, d’avoir pris le tempsp de tourner tous ces vidéos. Ils sont excellents. J’apprécie surtout ceux qui expliquent les phrases françaises en ce qui concerne la culture de tous les jours.
    Si je peux corriger un peu ton anglais, qui est d’ailleurs formidable. Le mot ‘use’ en anglais a 2 moyens d’être prononcé. Quand il s’agit d’un verbe on prononce le ‘s’ comme ‘z’, mais quand il s’agit d’un nom, on prononce le ‘s’ comme ‘s’ . En plus le mot ‘adjective’ est prononcé avec l’accent tonique au début du mot ADJective. On doit s’aider n’est-ce pas? Ou devrais-je dire on doit nous aider n’est-ce pas?

  • Salut !!
    Je savais pas que le participe passé s’accorde avec le pronom quand on utilise “on” 🙂
    Merci Géraldine !! 🙂

  • Bonjour Géraldine,
    Merci de nous avoir enseigné le “on.” Avant, j’avais du mal avec l’euphonie. Aujourd’hui, j’ai compris que l’euphonie se trouve souvent avec l’on. C’est genial que, dans vos leçons, vous mettiez un peu de grammaire pour les debutants, les intermédiaires et les avances tous ensemble. Excusez-moi les fautes de la grammaire ici ! Merci et bonne journée.

  • Merci beaucoup, Géraldine! Cette leçon était très utile! Avant, je n’ai comprends l’importance ou l’usage de l’« on. »

  • Cette leçon est mon “aha!” moment. J’utilise “on” quand je parle français, mais quand je veux indiquer c’est mon mari et moi, je disais “mon mari et moi, nous aimons voyager”. Grâce à toi, j’ai appris de dire: mon mari et moi, on aime voyager!

  • From one “grammar nerd” to another, merci beaucoup, Géraldine, pour vos leçons super utiles!!! J’aime revisiter régulièrement ces petits détails pour pouvoir continuer à faire du progrès en français. Merci!!!!

  • Madame,
    your lessons on ‘on’ are the most useful (jusqu’à maintenant) of your many useful lessons. They will make a big difference in my spoken French!

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