Chapitre 5 – En Attendant L’Ascenseur

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

This chapter of the free French audiobook “À Moi Paris First Encounter” talks about the many different ways we use the subject pronoun “On” in modern French. Experience the different uses of On in context with the included bilingual story.

Use the floating blue icon in the bottom right to hide/reveal the English translations below or just click here.

Enunciated Recording

Slower Recording

Modern/Street Recording

Anne, Gérard, Paul et Mary marchent jusqu’à la voiture. Gérard met la valise de Mary dans le coffre, ils sortent du garage et se dirigent vers l’appartement des Castel. Après 25 minutes, ils arrivent dans une rue calme, et Gérard dépose tout le monde – et la grosse valise – devant la porte de l’immeuble avant d’aller garer la voiture.

Anne, Gérard, Paul and Mary walk to the car. Gérard puts Mary’s suitcase in the trunk, they exit the parking garage and take the direction to the Castel’s apartment. After 25 minutes, they arrive in a calm street, and Gérard drops everybody – and the large suitcase – in front of the building’s door, before leaving to park the car.

Anne fait le code, puis Paul monte en premier dans l’ascenseur avec la valise, parce qu’il n’y a pas la place pour tout le monde dans ce petit ascenseur parisien ! Pendant ce temps, Anne et Mary bavardent.

Anne keys in the door security code, and then Paul goes in the elevator first with the suitcase, because there isn’t enough room for everybody in this small Parisian elevator! During that time, Anne and Mary chat.


Le problème à Paris c’est qu’il y a très peu de places de parking. Donc, on doit bien chercher, et avoir de la chance !

The problem in Paris is that there is a very limited amount of parking places. So, one has to search carefully, and be lucky!


C’est le même problème à Londres. C’est impossible de trouver une place pour se garer dans la rue, et les appartements ont rarement de parking. Du coup, les places de parking privées se louent très cher.

It’s the same problem in London. It’s impossible to find a parking place on the street, and the condos rarely have (their own) parking. As a result, private parking places are being rented for a lot of money.


Exactement comme à Paris. C’est pour ça qu’on a seulement une voiture. Quelques fois, je me dis qu’on n’a pas besoin de voiture, mais en général, quand on a des enfants, on a une voiture.

It’s exactly the same in Paris. This is why we only have one car. Sometimes, I tell myself we don’t need a car, but in general, when you have children, you have a car.


Oui. À Londres maintenant, de plus en plus de gens n’ont pas de voiture.

Yes. In London now, more and more people don’t own a car.


Et toi Mary, tu sais conduire ?

And you Mary, do you know how to drive?


Non, pas du tout. Mes parents ont une voiture parce qu’on va souvent chez ma Grand-mère qui habite à Brighton. On est contents d’avoir une voiture quand on va chez elle.

No, not at all. My parents have a car because we often go to my Grandma’s house, who lives in Brighton. We are happy to have a car when we go to her place.


Et ta grand-mère conduit elle aussi ?

And your Grandma drives as well?


Oui, elle est complètement indépendante. C’est une femme très sportive ; elle nage beaucoup et elle fait aussi beaucoup de vélo. Quand on est sportif, on n’est pas fatigué, on reste jeune et plein d’énergie. Et vous Anne, vous aimez le sport ?

Yes, she is totally independent. She is a very sporty woman: she swims a lot and does a lot of biking as well. When you are athletic, you are not tired, you remain young and full of energy. What about you Anne, do you like sports?


Mais je t’en prie Mary, tu peux me tutoyer !

Oui, c’est vrai, le sport, c’est vraiment bon pour la santé. Gérard et moi on fait un peu de jogging, du tennis, et on adore faire de la plongée sous-marine en vacances. Mais on n’est pas très sportifs sinon. Ah, l’ascenseur est libre !

Please Mary, you can use “tu” when you talk to me!

Yes, it’s true, sports are really good for your health. Gérard and I we jog a little, we play tennis and we love to scuba dive on vacation. But otherwise we are not very athletic. Ah, the elevator is available!

Questions & Answers

With this chapter, we’ve progressed to yet another level of French, where we use longer sentence constructions, and more complex grammatical structures such as using the pronoun “on”.

This chapter, although smaller, is typical of what you’d find in my audiobook À Moi Paris Method – Intermediate. The story really concentrates on a point of grammar (here the many uses of the subject pronoun “on”, hence illustrating the theory which is then explained in the study guide).

So now, let’s practice our French with questions and answers. Of course, since the story level is more challenging, so is going to be answering these questions! You can learn a lot from them!

1. Pourquoi Gérard ne descend-il pas avec les autres ?

Why isn’t Gérard getting off the car with the others?

Parce qu’il doit aller garer la voiture.

Because he needs to go park the car.

2. Que faut-il faire avant de rentrer dans l’immeuble ?

What do you have to do before entering the building?

Il faut faire le code.

You have to enter the door security pin/code.

3. Paul prend tout seul l’ascenseur avec la valise pourquoi ?

Why does Paul take the elevator with the suitcase by himself?

Parce que les ascenseurs sont petits à Paris !

Because elevators are small in Paris!

4. Quel est le problème à Paris et à Londres quand on a une voiture ?

What’s the problem in Paris and London when you have a car?

C’est impossible de trouver une place pour se garer dans la rue, et les appartements ont rarement de parking.

It’s impossible to find a parking space on the street, and the apartments/flats seldom have (their own) parking.

5. Pourquoi les Castel n’ont-ils qu’une seule voiture ?

Why do the Castel only have one car?

Parce que c’est presque impossible de se garer !

Because it’s almost impossible to park.

6. Est-ce que Mary sait conduire ?

Does Mary know how to drive?

Non, pas du tout.

No, not at all.

7. Les parents de Mary sont contents d’avoir une voiture à quelle occasion ?

In which situation are Mary’s parents happy to have a car?

Quand ils vont voir la grand-mère de Mary.

When they go visit Mary’s grandmother.

8. Où habite-t-elle ?

Where does she live?

Elle habite à Brighton.

She lives in Brighton.

9. Est-ce que la grand-mère de Mary est sportive ?

Is Mary’s grandmother sporty/active?

Oui, très.

Yes, very much so.

10. Quel sport Gérard et Anne pratiquent-ils quand ils sont en vacances ?

What sport does Gérard and Anne practice when they are on vacation?

Ils font de la plongée sous-marine.

They scuba dive.

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Study Guide: The Many Meanings of the Subject Pronoun “On”

More often than not, the modern uses of the pronoun “on” is a mystery to students of French.

Traditional methods teach that “on” means “one”. But in today’s French, “on” is mostly used instead of “nous”.

Actually, “nous” is becoming more and more formal, used mostly for writing. When speaking, we use “on”.

Here is how “on” works

1. “On” = 3rd person singular verb (“il” verb form)

The first thing to understand when it comes to “on”, is that no matter its meaning, “on” will ALWAYS take a 3rd person singular verb form, like “il” and “elle”.

On doit, on a, on peut…

2. “On” = ‘one’, ‘people’ (you)

This is the old explanation for “on”. Honestly, how often do you use the English “one” in a sentence?

So “on” is the “impersonal, the unspecific” subject pronoun, but watch out! It’s not at all the same thing as “it” in English, which refers to a thing or an animal. “On” always refers to a person.

On doit bien chercher – One has to look carefully

On peut louer une voiture – it’s possible to rent a car

In this meaning, you could also translate “on” as “people”, or even “you” – not meaning “you” in particular, but an unspecific “you”… that would be a bit more modern than “one” !!!

En général, quand on a des enfants, on a une voiture – in general, when people/you have children, people/you have a car.

3. On” = “nous” in spoken French

Watch out though!

The verb is still an “il” form, not a “nous” form. This is the most common way of saying “we” nowadays. I use it all the time, so do my parents, so it’s very, very much used this way. “Nous” is more formal, used in writing or in a formal context. But it’s very used as well.

C’est pour ça qu’on a seulement une voiture – that’s why we only have a car.

4. “On” and the adjective agreements

When “on” means “we”, the adjective, if any, will agree in number and gender with the true meaning of “on”: so it will be plural for sure, feminine or masculine.

On est contents – we are happy

On n’est pas très sportifs – we are not very sporty

When “on” means “one, you, people”, or an unspecific person, it’s usually masculine singular.

Quand on est sportif, on est pas fatigué – when you are sporty, you are not tired.

But you have to be smart, and stay focused on the context. Sometime, this unspecific person could only be feminine…

Quand on est enceinte, on est fatiguée – when you are pregnant, you are tired

5. The tricks “on” plays on your ear

1. On makes a strong liaison in N

And that’s problematic because it makes it sound like a negative… Contrast:

On est contents – on n’est pas très sportifs.

There is no difference in pronunciation between “on est” with a liaison in N, and “on n’est”. So it’s only the “pas” that gives away the negative… Tricky indeed !

2. On sounds like “ont”

Les appartements ont rarement de parking.

You could argue that “on” sounds like “ton”, or “sont”, or “non”… Or even that you don’t hear “on” very well, that it’s almost silent!

So, with “on”, you cannot really trust your ears. You have to stay really focused on the context!

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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