I'm having a hard time trying to understand what the meaning of this phrase is:

"On a toujours été...".

The dictionary tells me that "été" means summer but I can't see how that definition translate into anything meaningful.

  • 3
    Welcome to French Language SE! It's hard to know what level to answer at, because I don't know where you are in your French. One answer would be: été is the participe passé of être. This is the form used in the passé composé, which is the usual past tense in French. Since être means "to be", été means "been". The translation of the sentence is "We have always been..." If any part of that explanation is unclear, please add a comment or edit your question, and it might be possible to write a detailed answer that would help you more.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Aug 22, 2018 at 2:45
  • Hi, I'm a beginner and I didn't know I was dealing with the verb "être". Your comment has answered my question. Thanks Luke. Aug 22, 2018 at 3:01

1 Answer 1


Following @Luke Sawczak's nice comment the sentence

On a toujours été...

is the past form (one of them) of the sentence

On est toujours...(present tense)

In particular, this is the so-called passé composé (perfect tense in French learning books for Anglophones) which is composed as follows:

auxiliary verb (avoir or être)+past participle (participe passé) of the conjugated verb.


On est==>On a (avoir conjugated) été (participe passé of the verb être)

On est ==> On a été

which may interpreted according to context by various ways in English, including

one is/people are/we are/they are ==> one has been/people have been/we have/they have been or one was/people were/we were/they were

See here for the personal subject pronoun on or even better here (not for beginners).

There are three major groups of verbs in French; the first two regular. The third one contains the so-called irregular verbs. Nevertheless, one can split this group into sub-groups to facilitate learning. One of the major tasks of a beginner is to learn how to conjugate the verbs of the third group and how to learn the past participle of them. The first two are not hard at all. See here for more.

As in many other languages (English, German, Romanian) the verb être (to be) is highly irregular in terms of conjugation and constructing the past participle (été).

Last but not least French language is full of homographes (and homonymes more general). You have just encounter one homographe (été = summer but été = been). See here for more about this subject.

I suggest also you use an online dictionary. For instance


  • Great! If you could just remove the we are from On est=one is. As it is not correct to understand on as nous.
    – MC68020
    Aug 22, 2018 at 8:29
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    @aCOSwt Thanks. But we don't use (at least in everyday language) on in place of nous?
    – Dimitris
    Aug 22, 2018 at 8:39
  • On can refer at group of people, but can also represent a group where the number of people can be ... undetermined; for example, we can say On a gagné ! (refered to football) can represent all a country, but Nous avons gagné didn't, must be use for a group of few people
    – damadam
    Aug 22, 2018 at 8:45
  • @damadam Ok. C'est noté. I made the change. Thanks!
    – Dimitris
    Aug 22, 2018 at 8:49
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    @aCOSwt I am puzzled:-)! According to frenchtoday.com/blog/french-grammar/… we may interpret on by one/we/I/he depending on the context. In any case the interpretation with one is rather literary if not archaic. I doubt English people use one in everyday speaking.
    – Dimitris
    Aug 22, 2018 at 12:19

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