Why You Should Never Say Nous in Spoken French (Spoken French Lesson!)

If you first learned French in a classroom, you’ve maybe noticed that spoken French doesn’t always sound the way you expect it to based on the written French you know.

Spoken French follows unwritten rules, almost making it a different language from written French. One is that we rarely use “nous” in spoken French. I’ll explain in today’s lesson.

C’est parti!

1 – “Nous” is for written French
2 – “Nous” in everyday spoken French?
3 – Practice with me!

1 – “Nous” is for written French

During French lessons in school, you might have learned that we use “Nous” for the English pronoun “We.”

Nous jouons de la musique.” = “We play music.

But “Nous” as a subject sounds a bit formal, or at least written. You’ll find it in novels and textbooks, elegant old-fashioned dialogues, and speeches and presentations that try to sound a bit formal.

But that’s not at all what we use in everyday spoken French. “Nous” sounds a bit too formal as a subject, so in modern French TV shows or real conversations, you’ll hear the subject: “On” instead. It’s the indefinite pronoun for “someone in general”, as I’ll talk about later. But in everyday spoken French, it’s more often the informal version of the subject “We.”

For conjugation, it works just like Il and Elle. It’s the third person of the singular.

Nous jouons de la musique. → On joue de la musique.

On” is not incorrect French or slang. It’s simply everyday spoken French, with its own rules that are often different from the rules for written French that you might learn in textbooks or school.

It’s the kind of language that you would overhear in Paris from nearby tables in your favorite restaurant. The type of real spoken French you will also find in my longer programs like the 30-Day French Challenge, where we go over French culture and vocabulary with a new fun challenge every day, like dialogues in everyday French, pronunciation overviews, games, and quizzes to help you learn.

But let’s start practicing right away.
How would you turn “Nous” into “On” in the next sentences?

1 – Nous jouons. (= We play.) → On joue.
The first difficulty here is simply pronouncing the French nasal vowel “On

Click here to learn more: French Pronunciation Fundamentals Part 2: nasal sounds

2 – Nous chantons dans une chorale.= (We sing in a choir.) → On chante dans une chorale.
It’s the third person singular, like Il chante. (= He sings.) or Elle chante. (= She sings.)

The conjugation with “Nous” at least tends to be quite regular: it always ends with “-ons.”, even with irregular verbs.

  • Nous pouvons. = We can. (pouvoir)
  • Nous allions. = We were going. (aller)
  • Nous prendrons. = We will take. (prendre)

Even with irregular verbs like prendre = to take!
Nous prenons un taxi.= We’re taking a cab.

And there’s one main exception, of course: Nous sommes. = We are.

In le passé simple, it looks like this:

  • Nous prîmes. = We took. (prendre)
  • Nous allâmes. = We went. (aller)

But remember that nobody uses the passé simple anyway.

Click here to learn more:

3 – Nous prenons un taxi. = (We’re taking a cab.) → On prend un taxi.
The verb “prendre”(= to take) is one of these essential irregular verbs where you simply have to learn the conjugation, especially in the present. Conjugaison of the verb “prendre” in the present tense:

  • Je prends  — > Nous prenons
  • Tu prends  — >  Vous prenez
  • Il / Elle / On prend  — >  Ils / Elles prennent

4 – Nous allons au restaurant. → On va au resto. (= We’re going to the restaurant.)
Aller” (= to go) appears regular with “nous allons”, but it makes an irregular “on va” in the 3rd person.

5. Nous avons réservé. → On a réservé. (= We have a reservation.)
The verbe “avoir” is the auxiliary verb in le passé composé. Literally, it means “we booked / we have booked”.

6. Nous pensons arriver vers vingt heures. → On pense arriver vers vingt heures. (= We think we’re going to arrive around 8 pm.)
The verb “penser” = to think, is a regular verb that ends in “-er”.

7. Nous sommes prêtes. → On est prêtes. (= We’re ready.)
The verb “être” = to be, is in the present tense. The adjective “prêtes” is plural because it’s about several women — even though “on” is singular!

8. Allons-y ! → On y va! (= Let’s go!)
With “nous”, we can give orders and suggestions with the imperative form, like “Allons-y”, let’s go. And with “On”, we always give orders and suggestions in everyday French – except there’s no imperative form with “On”. Instead, we simply use the indicative present, the “normal sentence”, like :

  • On y va ! = We’re going, let’s go.
  • On se voit demain ? = Do we meet tomorrow? Or even Let’s meet tomorrow.
  • Allez, on passe à autre chose. = OK, let’s get over this. Let’s move on to something else.

Let’s discuss how we still use “nous” in everyday spoken French. With the imperative “nous”, it would make:

  • Allons-y !
  • Voyons-nous demain !
  • Allez, passons à autre choses

2 – “Nous” in everyday spoken French?!

I know, I’ve been going on for a while now about how we don’t use “nous” in everyday spoken French, and well, that’s completely false! Or rather, what I actually said is that we simply don’t use “nous” for the English “we”, the subject.
However… We do use “nous” to mean “us” – the pronoun object, like:

  • C’est nous ! = That’s us!
  • On la regarde. = We’re watching her. But:
  • Elle nous regarde. = She’s watching us.

That’s why we always use “on” as a subject, yet we still use “nous” a lot as an object pronoun in everyday spoken French. Especially after prepositions:

  • Tu pars avec nous ? = Are you leaving with us?
  • On se voit chez nous. = We’ll meet at our place / Let’s meet at home.
  • Ça, c’est pour nous. = This is for us.

Let’s see reflexive pronouns:

  1. Me (je) —> Nous (nous)
  2. Te (tu) — > Vous (vous)
  3. Se (il, elle, on) —> Se (ils, elles)

We also have stressed pronouns:

  1. Moi (je) —> Nous (nous)
  2. Toi (tu) —>  Vous (vous)
  3. Lui (il) —> Eux (ils)
  4. Elle (elle) —>  Elles (elles)
  5. Nous (on)


  • Elle nous voit. = She sees us.
  • Nous nous voyons. = We’re seeing ourselves (or each other).
  • On se voit. = We’re seeing ourselves (or each other)é
  • On nous voit. = Someone is seeing us (“nous” is not reflexive, so “on” doesn’t mean “nous”. It’s the indefinite subject “someone”).

More confusingly, you’ll also hear informal French sentences like:

  • Nous, on est prêts. = We’re ready.
  • Nous, on veut, continuer à chanter encore…

It’s a repetition of the subject and a common way to stress it. It’s saying implicitly, “We’re ready, but you’re not, or while they’re not.”

  • Moi, je sais. = I know (contrary to someone else).
  • Toi, tu n’as pas de problème. = You don’t have any problem (but, implicitly, I do.)
  • Nous, on est là. = We’re here.

There’s one more thing subtlety with the pronouns here. It’s about the difference between On nous a vu. = Someone saw us. And On s’est vu. = We saw each other.

nous” = “us” = when something happens to us from the outside.

  • Il nous voit. = He’s seeing us.
  • Ils nous voient = They’re seeing us.
  • On nous voit. = Someone is seeing us.

However, “nous” is also a reflective pronoun, meaning both “ourselves” or “each other between us”, but only when used with “Nous” as a subject in formal or written French:
Nous nous voyons. = We’re seeing each other, we’re seeing ourselves. (formal)

However, for “On”, the reflective pronoun “ourselves” or “each other among us” is simply “se.” Just like all 3rd person in French:

  • Il se voit. = He’s seeing himself.
  • Elles se voient. = They’re seeing themselves / They’re seeing each other. (feminine)
  • On se voit. = We’re seeing each other / We’re seeing ourselves. (everyday spoken French)

Or, in short :

  • On nous voit. = Someone is seeing us. (passive voice; if the subject “on” was about “us”, it would be a reflective pronoun)
  • On se voit. = We’re seeing each other, we’re seeing ourselves. (everyday spoken French)

3 – Practice with me !

1/5 Here’s a sentence in formal French. How would we say that to a friend in everyday spoken French?

Nous sommes allés au Musée d’Orsay. = We went to the Orsay museum.

It’s: On est allés au musée d’Orsay. = We went to the Orsay museum.

Click here to learn more:
Top French Language Tips for Travel: How To Make The Most Out of Museum Visits

2/5 Now, a sentence in everyday French. How would you make it sound more formal?

On adore les peintures de Monet. = We love the paintings of Monet.

It’s: Nous adorons les peintures de Monet.
It’s the simple conjugation of “nous” in the present with the verb adorer = to be fond of or to love something.

3/5 Now, here’s a sentence in English. How would you translate this into formal written French? How would you say it in everyday spoken French?

We take painting lessons at home.

You might need the expression des cours de peinture (= painting lessons).

It’s : Nous prenons des cours de peinture chez nous. in elegant written French.
And On prend des cours de peinture chez nous. In everyday spoken French.
Instead of “chez nous” at home, we could also use à la maison, or sometimes à domicile, to sound more formal and official.

4/5 Fill in the four blanks with either “on” or “nous“:

Pour ___, c’est vachement important d’être créatifs. = For us, it’s really important to be creative.
______ pouvons te présenter à la prof, si tu veux. = We can introduce you to the teacher, if you want.
____ s’appelle demain pour en parler ? = Let’s have a call tomorrow to talk about it, OK?
Elle ______ a beaucoup appris sur la peinture ! = She taught us a lot about painting!

Let’s have a look at each question here:

Pour nous, c’est vachement important d’être créatifs.
→ Object pronoun “Nous” after the preposition “avec”.
vachement (slang) = très = very or really

Nous pouvons te présenter à la prof, si tu veux.
→ This is too formal for everyday French with friends.
Pouvons = Pouvoir = to be able to, can. It’s a very irregular verb in French, too, except mostly for “Nous” and also “Vous”, the plural of “you.”
How would you say that with “on”, by the way?
It would be:On peut te présenter à la prof.

On s’appelle demain pour en parler ?
→ orders and suggestions often share that structure, with “on”.

Elle nous a beaucoup appris sur la peinture !
→ A pure object pronoun: “nous”.

5/5 Using the vocabulary you know or learned from the lesson, create sentences in spoken French using “On.” This is your chance to be creative and apply everything you’ve learned! Write down your answer in the comments!

And now, you can rewatch this video to master today’s topic, or you can keep learning about modern everyday French with me.

You’ll also find that in my longer courses, with programs from intermediate to advanced, such as French Conversation with Confidence, French Vocabulary & Pronunciation – or the 30-Day French Challenges almost every month! They’re all enjoyable, with our lovely community of open francophiles, and they’re designed to help you find confidence whatever life in France throws at you.

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À tout de suite.
I’ll see you right now in the next video!


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