Stop saying “nous"
My first tip to sound more natural in French
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Whenever I get a new student, one of the first things I suggest is to stop saying nous.
When you learn French, you learn it the proper way, and you learn to conjugate every verb tense, including nous.
However, in conversation, using nous constantly is a dead giveaway that your French was learned from books, and not from real life.
In the real world, in 99% of cases, nous is replaced by on, in conversation and even in business settings.
For example, instead of saying:
Nous avons passé un bon week-end.
You can say instead:
On a passé un bon week-end.
Here, on means "we."
Of course, I refer to conjugating verbs with nous. You can use the direct object pronoun nous, such as in the example:
Tu viens avec nous? (Are you coming with us?)
The true meaning of on
In its original meaning, the word on in French excludes the person speaking. For example:
On m’a dit que Montréal était une belle ville.
Here, on excludes the person speaking. In English, we would use the passive voice:
I was told that Montreal is a beautiful city.
Or we might say:
I heard that Montreal is a beautiful city.
How to use nous today
The use of nous is reserved for:
Formal language, such as in speeches, newsletters, scientific presentations, etc.
Sometimes you may hear nous in a television interview, when a person talks about the work they do with their team. But often, that person will revert to on, often in the same phrase. French speakers rarely use nous in conversation.
Some teachers will disagree with what I am telling you. They still teach nous. Yet these same teachers use on in everyday life. If you do the same, your French will sound more natural.
And yes... we still use on in its original sense, which excludes the person speaking. But the context will be clear.
In my original example, it is clear that on does not mean we, because it is immediately followed by another pronoun.
On m’a dit que Montréal est une belle ville.
People told me that Montreal is a beautiful city (I was told that Montreal is a beautiful city.)
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How to say: “My partner and I did that”
Because nous is replaced by on in most cases, you might sometimes try to say something like this:
My partner and I went there last year.
How would you say that without using nous?
In proper French, you would need to conjugate the verb aller with nous.
Mon partenaire et moi y sommes allés l’année dernière.
Although this isn’t technically proper grammar, you could say the following:
Mon partenaire et moi, on y est allés l’année dernière.
Here, you break the sentence into two parts, and use on in the second part. This is a more casual way of speaking and shouldn’t be used in writing, or in very formal situations.
The other examples should be used in informal, everyday conversation. In writing, always use nous.
Practice with these exercices for members of my site.