Even after having years of French instruction, people still exhibit some confusion over the indefinite pronoun on in French. So what exactly is on and when can we use it?
On (pronounced /ɔ̃/ like the vowel in the word “pont”) has a few meanings in French. In some instances it can mean we or one. In conversational French, on is frequently used instead of the we that everybody learns in class – nous.
Unlike the nous form, on follows the same conjugation pattern as he and her in French (il ou elle). So, on can be your best friend because the 3rd person verb conjugations are easier to pronounce and remember. Check it out yourself:
Il aime, elle aime, on aime – nous aimons
Il lance, elle lance, on lance – nous lançons
Il commence, elle commence, on commence – nous commençons
If you want to sound more fluent in French during normal conversations then you use on. If you need to be more “formal” with people then employ the use of nous.
On voyage à Paris souvent.
People travel to Paris often OR We travel to Paris often.
(interpretation depends on the context)
On va étudier ce soir?
Are we going to study this evening?
On arrive bientôt.
We’re arriving soon.
En France, on parle français.
In France, one speaks French.
So keep in mind that if you want to improve your French, try to start incorporating on more into your vocabulary. When a word after on begins with a vowel sound then there’s a liaison.