In spoken French, "on" replaces nous as a subject pronoun. I don't understand how to say something like

Do you want us to come?


You owe us money.


Tell us!

Do French speakers use nous here, even in highly informal conversation?

  • The assumption that using on for nous is to be kept for informal situations implies that the use of nous implies a formal one is false. Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 7:46

2 Answers 2


On” can only replace “nous” when it is a subject pronoun. In the first example, the corresponding French sentence has “nous”/“on” as a subject of the verb come, so “on” can be used.

Do you want us to come

From more formal to less formal.

  • Veux-tu/voulez-vous que nous venions ?
  • Veux-tu que l’on vienne ?
  • Veux-tu qu’on vienne ?
  • Tu veux qu’on vienne ?

In the two other, “us” is not subject, thus using “on” is impossible.

You owe us money.

  • Tu nous dois de l’argent.

Tell us!

  • Raconte-nous !
  • Dis-nous !
  • Thanks. Similarly, even in informal French, do you say notre ? E.g. "On a oublié notre argent "
    – hunter
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 18:42
  • Yes, “On a ou oublié notre argent”.
    – Édouard
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 23:15
  • For the translation of "Tell us", just "Raconte." and "Dis." are very common.
    – oli
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 1:29
  • 1
    tell us Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 6:07
  • Keep in mind that on was originally used for an undefined subject. À Saint-Meumeu, on va à la messe tous les dimanches, puis on mange de la tourtière pour dîner. Here, on does not imply the one who's talking and his friends, but rather the citizens of Saint-Meumeu, who have a global habit of going to church every Sunday, then having meat pie for lunch. Nowadays, on has been used much more as a replacement for nous in common language usage.
    – user757
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 13:14

Basically just remember that “on” is the equivalent of “one” (as in on doit etre gentil/one should be kind) and “nous” corresponds to “we” (nous chantons/we sing) or “us” (dis-nous/tell us) or rarely ours (as in chez nous).

  • 2
    Whoever has downvoted should explain the reasons for doing so Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 17:48
  • I'm, not the one who downvoted you. It probably was related to the fact that what you describe about on <-> one does not reflect the most common use of on in the "langage familier", which is the equivalent for nous. On was used as an impersonal pronoun, nowadays, it's very personal.
    – user757
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 18:09
  • I think these two statements are equivalent in meaning: One should be kind or we should be kind. So I am not sure whether I understand your comment. I suppose you are confusing the meaning of “one” in English. Please note that I do not refer to it in the sense of number one. Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 18:33
  • I'm aware you're not referring to the the number one :) And yes, One should be kind and We should be kind may have an equivalent meaning when we is interpreted a "people", at large. If we is used in the context where it designate a precise group of person, it does not have the exact same meaning. Here, we is a bit like on: Bob says: "Les gars, on mange d'la pizza ce midi?" here on designates precisely Bob and is friends, while in "Au Québec, on aime Céline Dion.", on designates population from Québec, at large. (Do we lunch with pizza? v.s. In Québec we/one like/s Celine Dion.)
    – user757
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 19:02
  • 1
    @AbhimanyuArora: In case it's not clear, I agree with your answer, as far as it goes. I only added that "on" is not exactly equivalent to "one", since the former cannot be used as the object. The other difference I see is usage: "on" is common in French; "one" is less common in English, and "one" often has a connotation of being a bit formal or forced.
    – Drew
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 21:01

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