I had someone say they were looking for a dance school "où on peut apprendre des danses de salon". In this context is it more likely to mean "where one can learn to ballroom dance" or where "we can learn to ballroom dance". I believe it could be either but any French speakers lean towards one translation more? Is there any good way to tell "on" as "we" vs "one"?

  • The best way is through the context. In your example and in many cases, it could actually be both. This is valid also for English I guess, at least in your example, the meaning is not totally different and for the people speaking the "quest" is the same. I have a hard time finding an example where the meaning would be very different, but maybe is it because I'm not yet fully awake :-) Please note also that in informal speach, there's a tendency nowadays to use less and less the "nous".
    – Laurent S.
    Feb 7 '20 at 7:06
  • @LaurentS. yea I was afraid context would be the only clue. So since it's less common to use nous. i guess that makes it more "likely" to be us dancing but not perfectly clear. I guess I'll just have to get more clarification. Thanks! Feb 7 '20 at 17:14

As already answered in a comment, the context is generally telling how to interpret on in a sentence. Usually on is either "one" or "we" but it might also be any other personal pronoun. depending on the sentence. Really ambiguous cases are rare.

In your example, because of the generic present, there is no doubt the meaning is "a place where ballroom dancing is taught".

If the speaker wants to include themself in the learners, that would more likely be we using the conditional that way:

...un endroit où on pourrait apprendre des danses de salon.

Note that the pronoun nous hasn't disappeared in spoken or informal French. What has almost completely disappeared in everyday spoken French is the first person plural verb forms (pouvons, pourrons, pourrions...)

That means nous is no more a direct subject but it can still be an affixed one like in:

...un endroit où nous, on peut apprendre des danses de salon. (here, the question implies there are places where ball dancing is taught but not for us for some reason).

Note also that nous is the only choice as a complement:

C'est nous qui apprenons les danses de salons.

This form is a rare case where the first person plural is still used in the conversation, although you might also hear or read in very relaxed informal French :

C'est nous qu'on apprend...


I don't know in English but in French, the meaning of '' où nous pouvons apprendre '' and '' où on peut apprendre '' is not the same. '' on '' is informal here, '' nous'' is not. In this situation if you say "nous", it means you are talking for a precise group of persons and you include yourself. If you use "on", it's not someone specific, it' s people in general

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