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Who Is On?

In your Yabla wanderings and French learning, you may have come across the ubiquitous indefinite personal pronoun on (one). While “one” is rather formal in English (as in “one is inclined to forget things"), on is more conversational in French. It is also much more versatile, as it doesn’t just mean “one.” So, let’s explore the many ways of using on


As we mentioned, the primary meaning of on is “one,” just as in English when making a general statement. In the following video, on refers to what “one” can eat at this Alsatian restaurant:


Qu'est-ce qu'on peut manger, chez vous, ici, pour huit euros?

What can one eat at your place here for eight euros?

Caption 25, Alsace 20 Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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In practice though, on can refer to anyone. Besides "one," it can translate to any number of things in English: “you," "we," "people," "they." It's up to the listener or reader to figure out from context who on is referring to. For example, in the same video, the chef also uses on to answer the reporter’s question, but this time, on translates as “we” since the chef is talking about himself and his team. 


Donc écoute, aujourd'hui pour huit euros, en menu du jour, on a fait un tartare de hareng fumé et pomme de terre à l'huile d'olive

So listen, today for eight euros, on the menu of the day, we made a smoked herring and potato tartare with olive oil

Captions 26-27, Alsace 20 Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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The chef could just as easily have used nous (we) in this situation (nous avons fait un tartare de hareng fumé...), but on is more conversational than nous. In fact, some even advise against using nous as a subject pronoun in casual conversation in favor of on, since nous will sound too formal. By the same token, avoid using on for "we" in formal situations and in writing—in those instances, stick with nous.


However, in a different situation, on can mean "you" when referring to the person being spoken to. In the video below, the speaker addresses “you,” the potential ticket buyer:   


Voilà, on peut acheter un ticket à la journée, à la semaine...

There we are. You can buy a ticket for the day, for the week...

Captions 55-56, Amal Vélib

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Other times, when it is unclear or not important to know who the subject is, on is a very convenient pronoun to use, equivalent to the generalized “they” or “people” in English. In his video on Nemours, Daniel Benchimol doesn’t know or doesn’t wish to mention who gave the town its nickname, la Venise du Gâtinais:


Nemours c'est aussi celle qu'on surnomme la Venise du Gâtinais.

Nemours is also the one they nickname "La Venise du Gâtinais" [The Venice of the Gâtinais].

Caption 5, Voyage en France Nemours - Part 4

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On also comes in handy when there is no way of knowing who you're referring to—for example, when the perpetrator of an action, often a negative one such as a theft, is unknown. In cases like these, on is best rendered by the passive voice in English, as the emphasis is on the “victim” or the recipient of the action. In the video below, on refers to the unknown person who stole Sophie’s phone:


C'est pas parce que... on t'a volé ton téléphone que tu vas plus avoir de boulot.

Just because... you had your phone stolen doesn't mean that you're not going to have a job anymore.

Captions 48-49, Sophie et Patrice On m'a volé mon téléphone

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You can also use on in another interesting way, to make a suggestion or prompt people into action, as in “let's sing":


Alors on chante! Allez, tu viens? Tu viens chanter avec moi? On y est? Alors c'est parti!

So let's sing! Come on, are you coming? Are you coming to sing with me? Are we ready? Then off we go!

Caption 48, Actu Vingtième Le vide-grenier

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A more unusual way of using on is instead of tu or vous (you) to avoid addressing the person directly and soften the tone. It’s a gentle way of initiating contact. When someone is tired, for example, you could say:


On est fatigué ce soir ?

We’re tired tonight? [You're tired tonight?]


You can even use on as an oblique way of referring to yourself out of modesty. For instance, to avoid bragging about yourself, you might say:


On a gagné le premier prix.

We won first prize. [I won first prize.]


As you can see, on is a very versatile and easy-to-use pronoun that is suitable for all kinds of conversational situations. (For even more, click on this link.) Just keep in mind that on is often open to interpretation, which can come at the expense of clarity. So let our Yabla videos guide you. 


On y va ! (Let’s go!)


Much Ado About Faire: When Faire Won't "Do"

The ubiquitous verb faire is a very versatile word. Not only can you use faire to talk about what you “do” or “make," but you can also use it in a myriad of situations, including when talking about the weather, feelings, and past events. Let’s explore some of the most common idiomatic expressions involving faire beyond doing and making.


Before we start focusing on faire as a verb, note that its past participle, fait (done/made), also works as a noun: le fait (the fact, the event).


Et le fait historique que l'on retient principalement ici à Bitche, c'est le siège de dix-huit cent soixante-dix

And the historical event that we mainly remember here in Bitche is the eighteen seventy siege

Captions 33-35, Lionel à la Citadelle de Bitche - Part 1

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You can read more about le fait in our lesson Getting the Facts Straight. But let's get back to faire as a verb. Early on in your French learning, you may have come across the construction il fait + noun/adjective to describe the weather. In this context, faire is equivalent to “to be." In the following video, Sophie and Edmée are enjoying a nice day out. Sophie says:


Il fait super beau aujourd'hui.

It's super nice out today.

Caption 1, Sophie et Edmée Le beau temps

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Here is another instance where faire translates as “to be”: the expression faire partie de (to be part of).


Et il faut savoir que jusqu'en mille huit cent soixante, la Villette ne faisait pas partie de la ville de Paris.

And you should know that until eighteen sixty, La Villette wasn't part of the city of Paris.

Captions 23-24, Adrien Quai de la Seine

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Faire is also used to convey how much time has passed in the construction ça fait + expression of time:


Et ça fait longtemps que tu veux devenir professeur?

And have you been wanting to become a teacher for a long time?

Caption 92, Claire et Philippe Le boulot d'enseignant

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This construction is equivalent to il y a + expression of time (it's been, ago). In Sophie et Edmée - Le beau temps, Sophie might have said:


Ça fait plus d’une semaine qu’il fait super beau. 

It's been super nice out for over a week.


Good weather is a perfect opportunity to faire un tour en vélo (go for a bike ride), as Amal suggests:


On va faire un petit tour

We're going to go for a little ride

Caption 28, Amal Vélib

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Note that you can use faire to talk about all kinds of sporting activities


Sophie and Edmée agree that on a sunny day, ça fait du bien (it feels good) to get out and about. Indeed, you can use the construction faire + noun/adverb to express how something feels, either in a positive or negative way:


Ouais, ça fait du bien un peu de pouvoir sortir et se promener.

Yeah, it kind of feels good to be able to go out and take a walk.

Captions 3-4, Sophie et Edmée Le beau temps

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Conversely, something might faire du mal rather than faire du bien:


Mais la petite sirène était incapable de faire du mal à quiconque.

But the little mermaid was incapable of hurting anyone.

Caption 41, Contes de fées La petite sirène - Part 2

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You can also say faire de la peine instead of faire du mal:


Ça me fait de la peine.

It pains me.

Caption 17, Sophie et Patrice Après Noël

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Speaking of feelings, you can reassure someone with the expression, Ne t’en fais pas! (Don’t worry!) That's what Nico tells Sam, who is worried about getting a job:


Ben, ne t'en fais pas. Je vais t'apprendre.

Well, don't worry about it. I'm going to teach you.

Caption 43, Extr@ Ep. 4 - Sam trouve du travail - Part 2

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In any case, Sam would be wise to act responsibly and avoid faire l’enfant (acting like a child) if he wants a job. As Margaux and Manon explain in their video on this subject, you can use faire to describe many different types of behavior and activities:


Attention, petite subtilité! Faire un enfant, c'est avoir un bébé. Mais faire l'enfant, c'est se comporter comme un enfant.

Careful, a slight subtlety! "Faire un enfant" is to have a baby. But "faire l'enfant" is to behave like a child.

Captions 17-18, Margaux et Manon Emplois du verbe faire

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In conclusion, ne vous en faites pas (don’t worry) if you’re not familiar with all the many uses of faire yet. Help is at hand! Allez faire un tour de nos vidéos sur Yabla (take a tour of our Yabla videos) and explore many more ways of using faire.


Et c'est parti!

Partir normally means “to leave,” as in nous sommes partis (we left). However, c’est parti is an idiomatic expression that has little to do with its literal meaning, "it left." So, without further ado, let’s explore the various shades of meaning of this very popular catchphrase. C’est parti! (Here we go!)


When it’s clear from the context that we’re talking in the past tense, c’est parti has a fairly straightforward meaning: “it started." In the video below, the speaker discusses how the Belleville upcycling center began: 


Et puis voilà. C'est comme ça que c'est parti.

And there you are. That's how it started.

Caption 117, Actu Vingtième Le bleu dans les yeux, recyclerie de Belleville

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So far so good. However, c’est parti doesn't always refer to something in the past, despite its verb being in the past tense. In fact, c’est parti usually describes an event that hasn’t happened yet. It tells us that something is about to start. Moreover, c’est parti is often accompanied with an exclamation mark to reflect the enthusiasm of the person starting an activity:


Et nous, on goûte. Allez, c'est parti! Fourchettes! Bon appétit!

And we're going to taste it. OK, here we go! Forks out! Bon appétit!

Caption 116, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano Médaillon de Homard - Part 3

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You can even add a little color to the expression by saying, Cest parti, mon kiki! Kiki is a colloquial term for "throat," but it only appears here for the rhyme:


C’est parti, mon kiki! 

Let’s get cracking!


In any case, c’est parti used on its own is something people say when they want to get started, like Amal setting off on a bike ride in the following video:


Voilà! C'est parti.

There! Let's go.

Caption 46, Amal Vélib

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Later in the same video, you will find another variation in the English translation of c’est parti:


Voilà. C'est bon. Le vélo... Et c'est parti!

There. It's good. The bike... And off you go!

Caption 50, Amal Vélib

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Similarly, c’est parti can also mean “we’re off”:


C'est parti, on y va.

And we're off, here we go.

Caption 44, Delphine et Automne Le gâteau au yaourt - Part 2

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Saying c’est parti is a perfect way to announce the start of a race. It's equivalent to on y va (let’s go/here we go):


Bon ben c'est parti. -Top chrono, c'est parti.

Good, well, here we go. -Starting now, here we go.

Caption 37, Joanna La course à pied: Conseils

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Another variation of c’est parti is c’est parti pour (for) in combination with a time period, to indicate duration: 


C'est donc parti pour trois jours de concert. Au programme, musique classique et jazz

So it's off for a three-day concert. On the program: classical music and jazz

Caption 2, Grand Lille TV Un piano dans le métro!

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C’est parti pour can also introduce what’s coming, as in “it’s time for” something: 


Huit heures, le suspense prend fin. C'est parti pour quatre heures de réflexion.

Eight o'clock, the suspense is over. Time for four hours of recollection.

Caption 4, Le Journal Le bac

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You can also use c’est parti pour to discuss what you might expect. In the video below, Sophie and Patrice speculate about the weather. Sophie thinks “they are in for" some rain:


Ah mais là, on est parti pour une semaine, hein?

Ah but here, we'll be in it for a week, huh?

Caption 9, Sophie et Patrice La pluie

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Here Sophie replaces c'est with on est. Note, however, that on est parti is usually not an idiomatic expression, but retains its literal meaning (we left):


On est parti de Rome...

We left Rome...

Caption 48, Lionel et Automne Lionel retourne à l'école

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In addition to the phrase c’est parti pour, you can qualify c’est parti with an adverb like bien (well) or mal (badly) to indicate whether things are going to turn out well or badly. So, the expression t’es bien parti means “you’re off to a good start/on the right track”:


Je pense que t'es bien parti.

I think that you're on the right track.

Caption 109, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano Médaillon de Homard - Part 3

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And of course, c’est mal parti means the opposite, “to be off to a bad start," like Amal's awful singing:


C'est très mal parti quand tu... -J'ai fait cinq ans de conservatoire.

It's off to a very bad start when you... -I did five years of conservatory.

Caption 52, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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Note that Caroline could have put it another way and said:


T’es très mal partie. 

You’re off to a very bad start.


Finally, you can add the suffix re- and say c’est reparti (here we go again) to indicate repetition, which can be meant as a good thing or a bad thing. In the video below, Nico expresses his frustration with Sam and says:


C'est reparti!

Here we go again!

Caption 19, Extr@ Ep. 4 - Sam trouve du travail - Part 7

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And Barbara is also frustrated with her mother, who does the same annoying thing over and over:


Et voilà, c'était reparti pour l'interrogatoire de police.

And then she went off again with the police interrogation.

Captions 39-40, Mère & Fille La soirée

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As you can see, there are many ways of interpreting c’est parti. In general, it's an idiomatic expression that marks the beginning of an action. With a little practice, you'll be able get a sense of its nuances in context. Keep watching Yabla videos, dear readers, and vous serez bien partis (you’ll be off to a great start)! Thank you for reading!

Leveling up with au niveau de

The expression au niveau de means "at the level of" or "on the level of." You can use this expression to talk about something that's physically level with something else:



...pour avoir de l'eau au niveau des genoux,

...having the water at knee level,

vous allez être emporté de ce côté.

you are going to be carried away to this side.

Captions 12-13, À la plage avec Lionel - La plage

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La ville est au niveau de la mer.

The city is at sea level.


Or, as in English, it can refer to more general things, such as one's health or one's skills or abilities:


Ben, c'est vrai qu'au niveau de la santé,

Well, it's true that on a health level,

 je le ressens parfois.

I feel it sometimes.

Captions 80-81, Amal et Caroline - La cigarette

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Je ne suis pas au niveau des autres élèves.

I'm not at the (same) level as the other students.


Another way of saying "on a health level" is au niveau sanitaire. You'll often see "au niveau + adjective" (no de) used in this way: au niveau national (on a national level), au niveau économique (on an economic level), au niveau spirituel (on a spiritual level), etc.


But sometimes "on the level of" or "on an x level" isn't the most succinct translation of au niveau de. It's also equivalent to phrases such as "when it comes to," "regarding," and "in regards to":


Parce que... en France

Because... in France

on a souvent tendance

we often have a tendency

à faire des amalgames

to mix them together

en particulier au niveau du sandwich, du kebab...

particularly when it comes to sandwiches, kebabs...

-Au niveau des fromages...

-When it comes to cheeses...

Captions 54-57, Lionel et J.B. - La salade grecque

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Ensuite au niveau de la selle,

Then regarding the seat,

faut bien la régler à votre hauteur.

you should really adjust it to your height.

Captions 35-36, Amal - Vélib

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Even when referring to physical spaces, au niveau de doesn't necessarily imply that something is level with something else. It could just mean "near," "by," or "in the region/area of":


Bruce se rend compte qu'un autre cours d'eau rejoint son

Bruce realized that another river joined his

Nil au niveau de Khartoum.

Nile near Khartoum.

Caption 42, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil

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Au niveau de also functions as a simple preposition when used with body parts, in which case it means "in":


Je ressens une douleur au niveau de mon genou.

I feel a pain in my knee.


No matter your niveau de françaisau niveau de is a great expression to know! 


Say When!

There are a few different ways of saying "when" in French, the most basic of which is quand. Like "when," quand can either be an adverb or a conjunction. As an adverb, it's generally used to form questions:


Quand seras-tu libre?
When will you be free?


Tu l'as inventé quand ce morceau?

When did you compose this piece?

Caption 24, Claire et Philippe - Mon morceau de piano

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À quelle heure is an adverbial expression that's more or less synonymous with quand, albeit a bit more specific. It's the equivalent of "at what time" in English:


Enfin, tu commences à quelle heure le travail?

Anyway, what time (when) do you start work?

Caption 70, Elisa et Mashal - Petit-déjeuner

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As a conjunction, quand is synonymous with lorsque:


À Paris quand vous sortez le soir,

In Paris when you go out at night,

le métro se termine à minuit trente.

the metro stops [running] at half past midnight.

Captions 15-16, Amal - Vélib

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Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille

When I see you, I quiver

Caption 19, Bertrand Pierre - Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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We could easily switch quand and lorsque in those examples:


À Paris lorsque vous sortez le soir, le métro se termine à minuit trente.
Quand je vous vois, je tressaille


However, you can't use lorsque as an adverb, that is, as a question word. So you would never ask someone, Lorsque seras-tu libre?


You'll also see the phrase au moment où ("at the moment when") instead of quand or lorsque:


Au moment où le chat sortit en courant,

When the cat ran out,

la calèche royale atteignait le château.

the royal carriage reached the castle.

Captions 33-34, Contes de fées - Le chat botté

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 usually means "where," but sometimes, as in au moment où, it means "when":


Les lignes de métro vont s'ouvrir

The subway lines will open [continued to open]

jusqu'à mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix,

until nineteen ninety,

dans les années mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix,

in the nineteen nineties,

la ligne quatorze fut ouverte.

when line fourteen was opened.

Captions 17-20, Adrien - Le métro parisien

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Le dimanche, les gens ne travaillent pas,

Sunday, when people don't work,

on va prendre le croissant, on va prendre le pain au chocolat.

we'll have a croissant, we'll have a chocolate croissant.

Captions 29-30, Arles - Le petit déjeuner

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If you're ever in doubt when to use which word for "when," just go with quand. It has the broadest scope, so you can use it pretty much n'importe quand (whenever).


Pas de souci!

If you have any worries, concerns, or problems in a French-speaking country, souci is the word to use to express your predicament. In the first two senses ("worry" and "concern"), it's synonymous with inquiétude


Ne te fais pas de souci. Fais-moi confiance!

Don't worry. Trust me!

Caption 6, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4

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Alors, le souci, quand elles en font deux, c'est que si elles sont pas très bonnes productrices de lait...

So the concern, when they have two, is that if they are not very good producers of milk...

Caption 4, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre - Les chèvres

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Pas d'inquiétude. De nos jours, le pont est protégé d'un grillage.

Not to worry. Nowadays, the bridge is protected by a wire fence.

Caption 29, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion - Le parc des Buttes Chaumont

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Souci and inquiétude both have verbal forms (se soucier, s'inquiéter) and adjectival forms (soucieux/soucieuse, inquiet/inquiète): 


Sans se soucier [or: s'inquiéterde dévoiler ses sentiments.

Without worrying about revealing her feelings.

Caption 7, Vous avez du talent Paulin - "Elle"

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Donc si vous êtes un petit peu soucieux [or: inquiet] de votre santé...

So if you're a little bit concerned about your health...

Caption 16, Voyage dans Paris - Cité Florale

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Un souci is also "a problem" or "an issue" you might have with something—for instance, if there's something wrong with a bike you've rented: y a aucun souci avec les pédales.

...if there's any problem with the pedals.

Caption 34, Amal - Vélib

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Et si y a le moindre souci avec un vélo...

And if there's the slightest issue with a bike...

Caption 57, Amal - Vélib

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But un souci doesn't always involve a sense of frustration or anxiety. It can also mean "a concern," as in something you really care about and pay a lot of attention to. 


Le souci du détail est un dogme.

Concern over detail [or: Attention to detail] is a dogma.

Caption 27, Le Journal Chocolats

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Nous avons un grand souci de l'environnement. 
We have a great concern for [or: We really care about] the environment. 


There are also the expressions par souci de and dans un souci de, both meaning "in the interest of" or "for the sake of":


Si une partie de Lyon a été retenue, c'est d'abord par souci de [or: dans un souci decohérence.

If a portion of Lyon has been contained, it is primarily for the sake of coherence.

Caption 11, Le Journal - La grippe aviaire - Part 2

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Finally, souci is also the word for "marigold." So while the informal expression pas de souci most often means "no worries," it can also mean "no marigolds"!