Pronoun 'On'

The pronoun on (literally ‘one’) is often used in French when you are not referring to a specific

person. It can be translated as ‘you’, ‘we’ or ‘they’. It is followed by the same form of the verb as il and elle. For example:


On proteste contre la guerre. - They are protesting against the war.

On dit que la violence devient pire. - They (people) say that violence is getting worse.

Si on veut combattre la pauvreté, on peut faire du travail bénévole pour aider les pauvres. - If you want to fight poverty, you can do voluntary work to help poor people.


You already know how useful the conditional tense of the verb vouloir is (je voudrais). The verbspouvoir and devoir are also very useful in the conditional tense when used with the pronoun on:

On pourrait  - One / We could, might 

On devrait  - One / We should, ought

Ce serait une bonne idée si on pourrait aider les gens qui meurent de faim. - It would be a good idea if we could help people who are dying of hunger.

On pourrait développer des énergies renouvelables. - We could develop renewable energy.

On devrait faire plus d’efforts pour combattre la famine. - We should make more effort to combat famine.

On devrait utiliser les transports en commun. - We ought to use public transport.

The verbs falloir and valoir can also be used in the conditional tense but not with the pronoun on:

Il faudrait faire plus d’efforts. - We should make more effort.

Cela en vaudrait la peine. - It would be worthwhile.


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