For 'On Est Allé,' Agreement is Optional, You Can Choose

The indefinite pronoun 'on' can agree with what it replaces. Or not.

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Mistakes will always be made in French, and now you can learn from them.

When you want to say "we went" or  "they went" in French, you don't have to use the French subject pronouns nous or ils/elles. You can choose to use the indefinite subject pronoun on. It's always conjugated in the third person singular, and it may or may not agree with the subject it replaces or any adjectives present.

Using on as an informal replacement for these plural subject pronouns, there are actually two options: Either the past participle allé agrees in gender and number with the plural masculine pronoun that on replaces, or it doesn't. Actually, you can choose either. Agreement is optional.

Both forms are correct 

Both on est allé AND on est allés are correct. It's your choice.

The French pronoun on is a little strange. It literally translates to the indefinite "one" as in "one shouldn't do that," but it can also mean "we," "you," "they," or "people" in general. One often hesitates over agreement when on replaces a plural. Since on has to take the third person singular form of the verb, it might seem as though agreement should also be singular. In other words, no agreement. In fact, agreement with whatever subject on replaces is optional. Either way is correct.

  •    Nous sommes allés au cinéma. / On est allé au cinéma. / On est allés au cinéma. These all mean: "We went to the movies." They are all correct.
  •    Sont-elles prêtes ? / Est-on prêt ? / Est-on prêtes ? These all mean: "Are they ready?" They are all correct.

What Is 'On'?

1. On (listen) is the indefinite pronoun and literally means "one." It's often equivalent to the English passive voice.

   On ne devrait pas poser cette question.
   One shouldn't ask that question.

   On demande : caissier.
   Cashier wanted.

   On ne dit pas ça.
   That isn't said.

   Ici on parle français.
   French is spoken here.

2. On is also an informal replacement for "we," "you," "they," "someone," or "people in general."

   On va sortir ce soir.
   We're going out tonight.

   Alors les enfants, que veut-on faire ?
   OK kids, what do you want to do?

   On dit que ce resto est bon.
   They say that this restaurant is good.

   On a trouvé mon portefeuille.
   Someone found my wallet.

   On est fou !
   People are crazy!

   On ne sait jamais.
   You never know.

Agreement With 'On'

There are two related debates about whether agreement is required with the subject implied by on:

1. Adjectives: In on est content (we/they are happy OR someone is happy), should the adjective agree?
   feminine: On est contente.
   plural: On est contents.
   feminine plural: On est contentes.
2. Être verbs: In on est tombé (we/they/someone fell), should the past participle agree?
   feminine: On est tombée.
   plural: On est tombés.
   feminine plural: On est tombées.

There is no real consensus, so here's my opinion: On is a neuter singular pronoun, so there shouldn't be agreement, but it's really up to you...or your French teacher. 

Additional Resources

On: indefinite subject pronoun
On vs. l'on

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Team, ThoughtCo. "For 'On Est Allé,' Agreement is Optional, You Can Choose." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). For 'On Est Allé,' Agreement is Optional, You Can Choose. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "For 'On Est Allé,' Agreement is Optional, You Can Choose." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).