Quand on était gosses, on nous taquinait beaucoup à ce sujet.

At first glance, I was under the impression that « on nous taquinait » might denote the reciprocal act of teasing one another, just as « on se taquinait » would do, but then realised that both of them used to be teased by indefinite someone or people — i.e. the second « on » actually referring to "someone/they".

I wonder if this dual use of « on » in a single sentence does not sound ambiguous, especially when the two are placed so close to each other?

3 Answers 3


For native french speaker it does not sound ambiguous.

Actually many of native french speaker use "on" instead of "nous" which is not true correct french.

Quand on était gosses, on nous taquinait beaucoup à ce sujet. means "When we were kids, we were being teased a lot about this topic"

And therefor should be translated : Quand **nous** étions gosses, **on** nous taquinait beaucoup à ce sujet.

Originally the french "on" is more like the english "it" while not totally equivalent.

This dual use of on with different topic is very common. Nevertheless if you would like to speak proper french you should use "Nous" when appropriate.

  • better that "it", you can replace it by "someone": "When we were toddlers, someone used to tease us." vs "When we were toddlers we used to tease one another." Dec 5, 2016 at 16:20
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    With nous, the translation would be Quand nous étions gosses, nous nous faisions beaucoup taquiner à ce sujet.
    – Sake
    Dec 5, 2016 at 20:23

It doesn't sound ambiguous at all to me and it's exactly the way I would say it.

And on nous taquinait (we were teased) cannot mean on se taquinait (we teased each other).


The second 'on' here doesn't refer to "someone/they".

I believe it is what is called "un pronom impersonnel", in the same way that "il pleut" does not refer to anyone: it is used when the action has no specific actor.

Regardless, as a native french speaker, this sentence is not ambiguous at all.

  • 1
    It's exactly what OP meant... Dec 5, 2016 at 15:42
  • On is a personnal pronoun, although an indefinite one. Dec 5, 2016 at 22:11
  • @StéphaneGimenez Hi. Is it acceptable to translate my example sentence in two different ways: "someone {only 1 person of indefinite nature} used to tease us" or "they {multiple people of indefinite nature} used to tease us". (Just for the sake of more clearly showing what the second "on" refers to) Merci. Dec 5, 2016 at 22:43
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    @LUNA. You can understand it as "people" in this case, but on has different uses. It can for example be used sarcastically to refer to a very specific person indirectly (or even to yourself). Dec 5, 2016 at 22:51

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