Is it allowed to say "Quelle heure est-on" instead of "Quelle heure est-il"? What's the difference between these questions?

  • Same thing. "on" is an undefined pronoun which can replace personal pronouns, like "il" here. I personally never heard the "on" version said by anyone around me, always the "il". So I do not think it is grammatically a mistake, more a usage details. espacefrancais.com/le-pronom-indefini-on-lon/…
    – Nic3500
    Jan 26, 2018 at 0:04
  • Cela s'emploie pour l'identification du jour : On est vendredi. Je ne sais pas pour les heures.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jan 26, 2018 at 13:43

4 Answers 4


I thinck it's not correct, bacause it is an impersonal form (forme impersonnelle), as, for exemple "il pleut". You can't say "on pleut" (unless as a kind of joke). The "il" doesn't refer to anyone.


Quelle heure est-t-il ?

is what is taught at school but is somewhat formal and relatively infrequent.

Quelle heure il est ?

is by far the most common way to ask "what time is it?" in spoken French.

A common but regional (Switzerland and large South-Western France) sentence is:

C'est quelle heure ?.

and you might even hear the colloquial and dubious:

On est quelle heure ?

perhaps groaned by someone not fully awoken in the middle of the night, and due to the proximity and confusion with:

On est quel jour ?

On the other hand, the suggested:

*Quelle heure est-on ?

is extremely improbable from French native speakers if only because its formal structure doesn't mix with the informal and offbeat on.

The fact is there is no real flexibility with these kind of sentences. You can't say either:

il est quel jour ? or il est quelle année ?.

I suspect the specificity of il est vs on est might be due to the fact that while we are fully and clearly "into" the space-time of the days, month and years (on est vendredi, on est en janvier, on est en 2018, on est en hiver...), the ephemeral hour was, until a not so distant past, an imprecise and often inaccurate concept. That means we were not really sure to be "at" a specific hour, but only aware that some device like a sundial was suggesting an hour.

We still say:

il est quelle heure à ta montre ?

meaning that is not necessarily the right information.

  • I don't think it's just improbable because tones don't match, "Quelle heure est-on ?" is just not the proper interrogative form, because you don't say "On est 11h", but "Il est 11h". The same way you wouldn't say "Il est mardi" ...
    – Laurent S.
    Nov 12, 2020 at 16:03
  • @LaurentS. Not just because the tone indeed. My point was quelle heure sommes-nous ? seems to me more acceptable (more precisely less unacceptable) than quelle heure est-on ?
    – jlliagre
    Nov 12, 2020 at 20:59

TL;DR : It is ok, but why would you?

It depends of what you mean by "allowed".

Is it grammatically correct? Yes. Will that carry the meaning? Sure. But if I hear someone say that, i would assume he's either from Canada or a remote place in France.

It sounds like "Quelle heure fait-il?" for me: it's understandable, yet not the "classic and corect way" of saying it.

  • I am from Canada, and I never heard it either...
    – Nic3500
    Jan 26, 2018 at 12:42
  • @Nic3500 Indeed, and I never said people in Canada used it ^^ Check it again: I said my assumption if I heard that would be that you were from those places. Niot because they use it, but because they sometimes have weird formulations that we're unaware of.
    – Turtle
    Jan 26, 2018 at 13:35

That would be correct in my opinion. But that's really odd to the ear. I wouldn't use it myself, as a native speaker, and would be confused for a millisecond if anyone were to ask me that way.

Now if you really think about it, and had to use a more uncommon sentence construction, such as:

Est-il tard ?

I don't think you'd be able to replace it with "on". That wouldn't work, on pronunciation flow side. Or at the very least would sound odd.

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