Agreeing past participle with 'on' (compound tenses)

Look at these cases of past participles used with 'on' :

Hier, on est allés à Eurodisney !
Yesterday, we went to Eurodisney !

Puis on est descendus du train le plus vite possible.
Then we got off the train as fast as possible.

On est toujours pressé d'oublier les moments délicats.
We're always in a hurry to forget awkward moments.


 

Note that when it comes to agree the past participle with 'on', there are two cases:

- If on is used for a specific group of people (i.e. meaning 'we' (nous) where the speaker is personally included in 'we'), then the participle will have a plural ending, and its gender agreement will depend on whether the group contains men or women. 

Quand on est revenus, il était parti.
When we came back, he was gone.

- If on is used in a general context (e.g. 'one', 'we', 'people', 'mankind', etc. where the speaker is talking generally about everyone), then there will be no agreement.

Dans la dernière décennie, on est revenu à la même idéologie.
In the last decade, we came back to the same ideology.

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Puis on est descendus du train le plus vite possible.
Then we got off the train as fast as possible.


Dans la dernière décennie, on est revenu à la même idéologie.
In the last decade, we came back to the same ideology.


Hier, on est allés à Eurodisney !
Yesterday, we went to Eurodisney !


On est toujours pressé d'oublier les moments délicats.
We're always in a hurry to forget awkward moments.


Quand on est revenus, il était parti.
When we came back, he was gone.


Q&A Forum 9 questions, 32 answers

When "on" means "nous," the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject "nous."

When "on" means "nous," the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject "nous."

Therefore, the correct answer here would be "allés," right?   I don't understand why the quiz answers say that the answer is "allé.

Asked 8 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super star

Hi Sharon ,

Can you re-post your query using your 'Report it' button on your correction board as it will link to the specific quiz and make it easier for us to look at it....

When "on" means "nous," the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject "nous."

When "on" means "nous," the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject "nous."

Therefore, the correct answer here would be "allés," right?   I don't understand why the quiz answers say that the answer is "allé.

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When "on" means "we," the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject "nous."

Asked 8 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super star

answered 

When "on" means "we," the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject "nous."

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on is a singular for we. It takes an auxillary verb in the singular; therefor the past participle should be single also so it should be on est allé

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi,

I agree with Peter that it is a strange one but as odd as it may be, 'on doit l'accepter'.

Just to recap -  

1.  When  'on' means 'we', the past participle will agree in gender and number to whom it refers to:

Marianne et moi (Cécile), on est allées au Portugal pour nos vacances d'été.

On est sortis en bande avec des copains hier soir.

On est rentrés tard hier soir après une bonne journée passée en famille.

On s'est séparées à regret, mes amies d'école et moi.

2. When 'On' stands for 'tout le monde', 'les gens', 'en général' , it will stay in the third person singular as in:

On n'est jamais si bien servi que par soi-même = If you want something done right, do it yourself

Quand on a reçu un don, on a des obligations =  When you receive a gift, it creates obligations

Hope this helps!

 

Hi Peter,

there are numerous posts and explanations under this topic already. Can you point to what explicitly you don't understand?

-- Chris.

I do not understand why the past participle is plural when the modifying verb and indeed the subject are single. In general French is a logical language and single subjects take single verbs not verbs which are part single and part plural and I was never taught this exception

Well, what can I say. A language is not math. 

-- Chris. 

thanks this is a very lucid explanation  merci
Like you Peter, I was a bit taken aback to learn that ‘on’ could be used in a plural way. I distinguish between them by thinking of the singular ‘on’ in terms of using the reference ‘one’ does this or that. At one time it was quite commonly used (on pun intended, lol )
AUrélie,  Laura says below that the use of “on” depends on whether one speaks of specofic people or “groups, mankind et al in GENERAL”.  athat I u derstand.  But when the phrase revers to (for example) Melanie et moi, the reference is to 2 specific people.  Why do say “on est allées..” instead of “nous sommes allées”?  What is the very subtle difference in meaning and usage?  In English the use of “one” did or said etc has decreased and is now looked on as being a somewhat pretentious way of speaking.
LauraKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Marnie,

The only difference is this: nous sommes allées is normal register and on est allées is informal. So in essence, you'd always use nous when talking to people you vouvoie and probably switch to on with people you tutoie.

Merci Laura.

Sometimes one needs to know the reason "WHY" an expression is used in addition to knowing HOW, WHEN and WHERE it is used.  It's the difference between memorizing a language and understanding it.  It would be interesting to know how this usage evolved...As non-native speakers we need all the help we can get!

I’ve been wondering about this topic myself and after poking around a bit, here are my two cents: strictly grammatically speaking (go ask the Académie Française if you don’t trust their website) you are never wrong if you leave on as masculine singular.  That is why, historically, there was no agreement with on.  Fin d’histoire.

That said, not everyone cares what the Immortels say about the language, so people like us, whether writers, native speakers or francophiles, make our own adjustments to the language as time goes by.  If they make sense to enough people, they tend to stick- at least for a while- and may fall back out of favor down the road. Language only lives on by evolving with the people who speak it.

A professor of mine in Paris used to talk about various exceptions in French as being a matter of poetry because something did not suit “le délicat oreille français”.  I think the case of the agreement with on is similar, although based on an affront to logic.  On some level it doesn’t make sense to use on to designate a clearly plural subject and not make a necessary agreement.  From the posts above and what I found on the web, there is a solid logic to the modern agreement with on and I’m sure it will live on in the French language until someone can argue soundly to the contrary.

Vive le débat!

on is a singular for we. It takes an auxillary verb in the singular; therefor the past participle should be single also so it should be on est allé

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Au fil des siècles, on est ________ des prédateurs. Why is the answer " resté "

and not " restés ", "On" in this question implies that "we" the humans, which is plural.
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1Correct answer

Yes, but unless it is a personal "we" (as in me, my wife and the kids) you don't use the plural. 

 

On est allés en vacances. -- We went on vacation. 

On est allé à la lune. -- We went to the moon (we=humanity. )

 

-- Chis (not a native speaker). 

I believe I understand the general principle. However, in the sentence given by stephen it seems contradictory to me that it then goes on with a plural "des prédateurs". To me this indicates that the "on" is a real plural and the participle should be "restés".

no matter, Almut. The impersonal "on" will always take the participle in singular to distinguish it from the more personal "on" meaning "we". 

P

Au fil des siècles, on est ________ des prédateurs. Why is the answer " resté "

and not " restés ", "On" in this question implies that "we" the humans, which is plural.

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Not really about the topic

When doing thé quiz. There was a question: 1969, we went to conquer the moon. (I paraphrased à bit) Anyway, partir was ued instead of aller. Is that Just colloquial ? And can aller be used ?
Asked 1 year ago
RonC1
Bonjour Daba, This is a very good question. I see no reason that the verb aller cannot be used in the same phrase. The fact that partir is used leads me to believe that it has more to do with agreeing of the past participle in phrases that use «on» as the subject. However, I am uncertain what difference it would make with whichever verb was used. Perhaps someone from the Kwiziq team will be able to provide a more informed answer. Bonne chance.
CécileKwiziq language super star

Hi Daba,

Could you give me the exact sentence as paraphrasing won't work here... 

Not really about the topic

When doing thé quiz. There was a question: 1969, we went to conquer the moon. (I paraphrased à bit) Anyway, partir was ued instead of aller. Is that Just colloquial ? And can aller be used ?

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As I am a man and I considered myself to part of the group in question surely my answer is correct?

Asked 2 years ago
AaronC1Correct answer
I think the sentence is talking about mankind in general (in pursuit of new horizons), so there would be no agreement.
RonC1
Bonjour Alan, Is your question about a specific kwiz question? Please resubmit and provide the quiz question you have concerns about. Bonne chance.
Hello Ron, The question was no.8 in a C1 advanced focus test. We were asked to fill in the blank in the sentence, "En tant qu'Hommes, on est toujours...........à la découverte de nouveaux horizons".
RonC1
I do recall that specific question and as I recall I had an incorrect response. I agree with your observation that being male, the verb agreement should be correct. Wish I could be of more help on this. J'espère que ma réponse vous aiderait. Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études en français, la langue de Molière et qui a été utilisé par le monde depuis l’époque d’Hugues Capet

I also had trouble with this specific kwizik question, I think because the english translation "As Men, we..." leads me to understand that the group of people in questions is specifically male. Maybe the translation could be "As humans, we..." or something similar? I do understand the sense that it is representing mankind... just the nuance is a bit less clear, I guess. Hope this makes sense.

As I am a man and I considered myself to part of the group in question surely my answer is correct?

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Gender agreement

When you say 'its [the participle's] gender agreement will depend on whether the group contains men or women', surely you mean 'contains menor not'.
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1
Bonsoir Lucien, Je pense que la leçon est très précise en ce qui concerne le groupe mélangé avec des hommes et des femmes. Je ne suis pas exactement sùr en ce qui concerne votre question. Dans un groupe ce qui compose des hommes et des femmes l'agrément est toujours masculin, mais si le groupe n'était que les femmes, l'agrément serait feminin, soit la phrase est au singulier soit le pluriel. Mon affaire est ce que la leçon est de l'agrément en ce qui concerne l'utilisation du mot «on». «Note that when it comes to agree the past participle with 'on', there are two cases: - If on is used for a specific group of people (i.e. meaning 'we' (nous) where the speaker is personally included in 'we'), then the participle will have a plural ending, and its gender agreement will depend on whether the group contains men or women.» Aujourd'hui, la plupart des groupes contiennent les hommes et les femmes. J'espère que cela vous aidera et bonne chance. Ron

Gender agreement

When you say 'its [the participle's] gender agreement will depend on whether the group contains men or women', surely you mean 'contains menor not'.

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UmiC1

Agreeing past participle with "on":

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Umi ! Did you have a question regarding this lesson ?
UmiC1
Bonjour Aurélie, I am sorry for not completing my question. Somehow I lost the page where I was writing my question regarding the usage of "ON." So my question is: "As Men, we always went off to explore new horizons" in the example for "on", why is it treated as a singular as indicated on the page for the lesson? "En tant qu'Hommes, on est toujours allé à la découverte de nouveaux horizons." Since "Men" is a plural, I thought that we needed to change the past participle accordingly. I would like to get an explanation to clarify my confusion, please. Merci beaucoup, umi
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Umi ! The distinction is whether "on" refers to "we" - i.e. the speaker and other people he's with - or to a broader, more abstract group - i.e. "people in general". Here we used the generic "Men" referring to Humanity in general, hence the capital letter, so it belongs to the second case. I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !.

Agreeing past participle with "on":

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How to determine which case "on" is?

How does one determine when on is used in a general context or as a collective NOUS? Is this as arbitrary and debatable as it seems or it is not adequately explained? Otherwise I wouldn't be getting this question wrong. If on in a general context is not translated as "one" or "they", as I've seen elsewhere, doesn't "we" always include the speaker?
Asked 3 years ago
LauraKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Melanie, To understand "on" you have to carefully consider the context. Can you give me an example of what you're getting wrong? It's not really a matter of translation. We can say things like "We're always in a hurry these days" to mean "we, people in general" as opposed to "we, my husband and I." So you have to consider not the translation, but the meaning behind it - is the sentence making a general statement about people / society, or is it referring to specific people?
I'd love to track down the two examples I got wrong, Laura, but sadly your system won't let me access tests I've already taken without paying to upgrade, which is not financially possible for the foreseeable future.
LauraKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Melanie, You can see all of the tests you've taken, including your results, by scrolling down to the bottom of your dashboard, in the section "Test history."
OK. I'll look for them again. I wasn't able to access them at the end of that "all you can eat for a week" sampler.
OK, I think I found all the C1 examples pertaining to this grammar point. I thought I had two examples with the same type of mistake, but it turns out the second error was a choice of the wrong verb, and only the first example pertains to my question, i.e., determining the context. *** Pendant la dernière année, on est souvent ________ trop loin dans les médias. During the last year, we often went too far in the media. ✔️ allé ✖️allés The question at issue here is who are the "we" in this example? Of course, it would help to understand what it means to 'go to far' in the media, which I was unclear on. But I interpreted this "on" to be a defined group of people of which the writer is a member. This is what I meant when I wrote that the interpretation appears arbitrary. La semaine dernière, on est ________ voir nos amis. Last week, we went to see our friends. ✔️ allés ✖️venus [This is the one where I chose the wrong verb.] *** So illustrate that I'm not a complete idiot, these are the examples I got correct the first time I encountered them: Hier matin, on est ________chez nous. Yesterday morning, we went back home. ✔️ rentrés Hier, mon frère et moi, on est ________ dans un grand bateau. Yesterday, my brother and I, we got on a big boat. ✔️montés En 1969, on est ________ à la conquête de la Lune. In 1969, we went to conquer the Moon. ✔️parti ✔️✔️allé (I appreciate full credit for aller instead of partir, which was used in the multiple choice version of this question.) En tant qu'hommes, on est toujours ________ à la découverte de nouveaux horizons. As men, we always went off to explore new horizons. HINT: Use "aller" ✔️ allé On est souvent ________ de faire des choses désagréables. One is often compelled to do disagreeable things. HINT: contraindre = to compel ✔️ contraint On est souvent ________ par les événements. One is often overtaken by events. HINT: dépasser = to overtake ✔️dépassé PS. Why do some correct responses have double checks next to them while others have only one?

How to determine which case "on" is?

How does one determine when on is used in a general context or as a collective NOUS? Is this as arbitrary and debatable as it seems or it is not adequately explained? Otherwise I wouldn't be getting this question wrong. If on in a general context is not translated as "one" or "they", as I've seen elsewhere, doesn't "we" always include the speaker?

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