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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!)


Supervising the Cadre

In a previous lesson on French art vocabulary, we learned that “le cadre is the frame around a painting or photograph.” In this lesson, we will focus on other meanings of cadre (frame) that are not related to art. In the process, we will also discuss related vocabulary such as encadrement (frame, management) and encadrer (to frame, supervise) that are also not always art-related.


Indeed, un cadre can take on a more figurative meaning. In the example below, it means “an environment”:


On a un cadre qui est vraiment agréable donc les gens viennent.

We have an environment that is really pleasant, so people come.

Caption 59, Le Mans TV Mon Village - Malicorne - Part 1

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Or, un cadre is simply “a space,” an interior space:


On a pris une décoratrice d'intérieur pour nous faire un cadre vraiment zen, épuré

We took on an interior designer to make us a really Zen, clean space

Caption 18, Alsace 20 Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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As mentioned in the previous lesson, "un cadre is also the word for 'framework' (as in the expression dans le cadre de, 'within the framework of')":


Donc là on leur met - et bien évidemment dans le cadre de ce suivi - une bague du Muséum d'Histoire naturelle de Paris

So there we put on them - and quite obviously within the framework of this follow-up - a ring from the Paris Museum of Natural History

Captions 13-14, Canal 32 Les secrets des cailles des blés

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The expression dans le cadre de can also mean “within the context of”:


et que ça rentre aussi tout à fait dans le cadre du vivre-ensemble

and that it also falls really well within the context of harmonious living

Caption 38, Actus Quartier Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 4

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You might come across a less common meaning of dans le cadre de: “as part of,” as in part of an event, such as the anniversary of a wine route: 


Oui. C'est un petit peu aussi dans le cadre du soixantième anniversaire de la route des vins.

Yes. It's a little bit also as part of the sixtieth anniversary of the wine route.

Caption 6, Alsace 20 100 recettes pour 100 vins

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In short, un cadre refers to a space, environment, setting, framework, or context. But you may be surprised to learn that it’s also the word for "executive" or "manager." For example, the mother in the following video is une cadre supérieure (a top executive):


Mère de famille, cadre supérieure

Mother of a family, top executive

Caption 7, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience - Arnaque en couple ? - Part 2

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And it seems logical that un poste d’encadrement should refer to "a management position":


Découvrons un premier exemple pour un poste d'encadrement.

Let's discover a first example, for a management position.

Caption 64, QuestionEntretien Pourquoi vous et pas un autre ? - Part 3

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Likewise, the verb encadrer means “to organize” or “supervise.” (Note that in an art context, encadrer means to frame a picture or a photograph.) In the video below, the speaker mentions that the annual Paris-Plage event was bien encadré (well organized) thanks to its constant supervising and monitoring:


C'est toujours, euh... bien encadré.

It's always, uh... well organized.

Caption 24, Lionel L Paris-Plage - Part 2

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Encadrer is synonymous with surveiller (to supervise, monitor, surveil):


Il y a toujours des gens pour encadrer, surveiller.

There are always people to supervise, monitor.

Caption 29, Lionel L Paris-Plage - Part 2

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Encadré in the broader sense of the word means “taken care of.” In the following video, the speaker would like to go on a cruise where everything is encadré:


Tout est encadré.

Everything is taken care of.

Caption 40, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 1

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However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, encadré can imply excessive interference to the point of feeling restricted. In the video below, Youssef Ben Amar, a contender in the legislative race, tries to debunk the myth that politics is about imposing restrictions:


On nous a vendu le mot "politique" comme quelque chose de très encadré

We've been sold the word "politics" as something very restricted

Captions 14-15, Le Mans TV Youssef Ben Amar, un rappeur engagé en politique

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Worse still, encadrer is not just a criticism—it can also describe something or someone you can't stand:


Je ne peux pas me les encadrer.

I can't stomach them.

Caption 85, Le saviez-vous? Comment dire qu'on n'aime pas?

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So, to sum up, encadrer has many meanings, ranging from “to frame," "to supervise", "to organize," "to loathe.” The Yabla team will make sure that you’re bien encadré or bien encadrée (well taken care of) thanks to our numerous videos.


\Wishing you every success dans le cadre de Yabla! Thank you for reading.


Present Participles

You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?


Participles are verb forms that come in two tenses, past and present. For example, the past participle of manger (to eat) is mangé (eaten) and its present participle is mangeant (eating). 


Present participles introduce a dependent clause indicating an action or state related to a main verb. You can recognize a present participle by its -ant ending (corresponding to -ing in English). For example: penser > pensant (think > thinking). To form a present participle, take the nous (we) form of the present tense—e.g., pensons (we think)—drop the -ons ending and replace it with -antpensant (thinking). 


Fortunately, this rule has very few exceptions. There are only three irregular present participles in French: sachant (knowing), ayant (having), and étant (being).


Sachant and ayant are not derived from the nous form of the present indicative (savons and avons), but rather from the present subjunctive (sachons and ayons):


Sachant que le but c'est de créer de la magie

Knowing that the goal is to create magic

Caption 11, Alsace 20 - Grand sapin de Strasbourg: tout un art pour le décorer!

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Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos

Myself, despite having a problem with my back

Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à Paris

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Interestingly, the word savant does exist in French. Un savant is a scholar or scientist, or a savant, someone with extraordinary mental ability. And of course there's the word avant (before), which isn't related to avoir


Étant (being) isn't derived from the present indicative or the present subjunctive, but from the infinitive, être (to be):


Mais écoute, Nicolas, mon épouse étant originaire de Dinsheim

Well listen, Nicolas, my wife, being a native of Dinsheim

Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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In addition to being two irregular present participles, ayant (having) and étant (being) can also act as auxiliary verbs, combined with a past participle, as in ayant vu (having seen) and étant (being born). In this case, the past participle follows the same agreement rules as in the passé composé. See our lessons on past participle agreement with avoir and with être for more on that. 


A present participle is often equivalent to the construction "qui/que (who/that/which) + verb." For example:


Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu, faisant des pointes.

The public was used to these girls in tutus, dancing on pointe.

Captions 11-12, d'Art d'Art - "La petite danseuse de 14 ans" - Degas

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Instead of faisant des pointes (dancing on pointe), the speaker could have said: 


Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu qui faisaient des pointes.

The public was used to these girls in tutus who danced on pointe.


Here is another example of a present participle that could be replaced with the construction qui + verbe:


La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, attirant encore plus de tourisme

At night, the building is reflected on the sea, attracting even more tourism

Captions 38-39, Le saviez-vous? - Le casino ou la guerre

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La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, qui attire encore plus de tourisme

At night, the building is reflected on the sea, which attracts even more tourism


Attirant (attracting/appealing) is an example of a present participle that can be used as an adjective, in which case it's subject to adjective agreement rules. Here's an example of attirant used as an adjective:


Bémol: En quatre ans les graphismes évoluent. Neutros sera-t-il encore attirant?

A drawback: In four years, graphics will have evolved. Will Neutros still be appealing?

Caption 18, Le Mans TV - Apprendre la sexualité par Neutros!

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Here, attirant agrees with the proper masculine noun Neutros, so it doesn't change. However, if it were used in a sentence with a plural feminine subject, we would have to add -es to it:


Les célébrités sont souvent très attirantes.

Celebrities are often very attractive. 


If you're not sure whether a word ending in -ant is an adjective or a present participle, sometimes its spelling can give you a clue. For example, the word for "tiring" in French is fatigant when used as an adjective and fatiguant, with a -u, when used as a present participle (Both fatigant and fatiguant sound the same.)


Des fois c'est vrai que c'est assez fatigant quoi

Sometimes it's true that it's quite tiring, you know

Caption 104, Miniji Michel

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On doit éviter les activités fatiguant les yeux.

You should avoid activities that tire out your eyes.


Besides the u, how do we know that we're dealing with a present participle, not an adjective, in the second example, and therefore don't need to make an agreement? First of all, we could easily replace fatiguant with qui fatiguent les yeux (that tire out/are tiring for the eyes). Second, we can see that les yeux is the direct object of fatiguant. Only verbs take direct objects, not adjectives. 


If we were to rewrite the sentence using the adjective, it would be:


On doit éviter les activités fatigantes pour les yeux.

You should avoid activities that are tiring for your eyes. 


Besides dropping the u, we add -es to the adjective to agree with the feminine plural noun activités. And we add pour (for) before les yeux, which no longer acts as a direct object.


We hope this lesson was intéressante (interesting) and not too fatigante (tiring), as we have another passionnante (exciting) lesson in store for you! We’ll be discussing a special kind of present participle known as the gerund. 


En attendant (in the meantime), have fun watching some more Yabla videos!


Habiter and Vivre: Two Ways of Living

Habiter and vivre both mean "to live" in French, but they're used in slightly different contexts. Habiter is very similar in meaning to its English cognate, "to inhabit": it generally refers to where a person is living. While vivre can also have this meaning, it more often refers to a person's living conditions or general existence. Let's look at some examples to illustrate the difference between these two lively verbs. 


It's very common to place a preposition such as à or dans after habiter to describe where you're living: 


On habite à Still, on a eu une superbe opportunité.

We live in Still, we had a superb opportunity.

Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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J'habite dans une maison bleue. 
live in a blue house. 


But technically, habiter doesn't require a preposition at all. You could just as well say on habite Still (we live in Still) or j'habite une maison bleue (I live in a blue house). The choice is yours! Here's another example of habiter without a preposition: 


De là à habiter ce bout du monde isolé...

From there to inhabiting this isolated end of the world...

Caption 3, Le Journal - L'île de Pâques

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Whereas habiter describes the specifics of a person's living situation, vivre is more about la vie en général (life in general). It describes how a person lives, or what their life is like:  


Elle a permis à Michel, sinon de faire fortune,

It has allowed Michel, if not to become rich,

du moins de vivre bien, avec sa petite famille...

at least to live well with his small family...

Captions 17-19, Le Journal - L'île de Pâques

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...un petit village, qui vit son quotidien de manière tranquille.

...a small village, that lives its daily life in a quiet way.

Captions 5-6, Lionel et Chantal - à Frémestroff

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Vivre can also mean "to live through" or "to experience":


Moi je dirais que c'est magique et que ça se raconte pas,

I'd say that it's magical and that it can't be described,

qu'il faut le vivre.

that you have to experience it.

Caption 26, TV Vendée - "Nieul Village de Lumière"

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No matter where you're living or how you're living, we hope your French studies are going well!


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