FR: on / l'on - L euphonique - euphonic L

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Whodunit, May 12, 2005.

  1. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Moderator note: Questions about the l' in l'on are very common, and the topic has been discussed many times on our forums. We have merged a large number of those discussions together here. Consequently, this thread is very long, but it is also very complete. You will find many usage examples, and many comments about style and frequency of use for on/l'on. You will also find information about etymology. If you are not interested in such extensive discussion, the following FAQ may help you:

    Q: Why is there an l' in phrases like ce que l'on dit ("what people say") and si l'on veut ("if one wants to")?
    A: The easy answer is that the l' is there for "euphonic" reasons -- to make things easier to pronounce: que l'on, si l'on, où l'on, etc. are more fluid than qu'on, si on and où on. The more complicated answer is that this l' is left over from a definite article in historical French. Please see the sites below for an explanation of the etymology.

    Q: Can we translate the l' using the word "it"? Does it refer to something else in the sentence? Does it have a grammatical function?
    A: No, the l' does not mean "it." As a matter of fact, it doesn't have any meaning at all. You can simply ignore the l' when translating. It does not have a grammatical function in modern French, and it does not refer to anything else in the sentence.

    Q: Is it "better" to include the l'?
    A: The l' is often omitted in casual speech, but it is generally included in proper written French.

    Q: Are there rules about when you can use the l' and when you can't?
    A: There are guidelines. Please see the sites below.

    :arrow: For more information:

    In school I was taught it has to be:

    "C'est un tunnel qu'on construisait en ..."

    But after speaking and writing with some natives, I could figure out that most of them would use "que l'on" in the above-mentioned sentence. The same goes for "si, et, ou and qui". I know it sounds better the way natives do it, but why was I taught incorrectly at school? Or is "l'on" colloquial?

    More examples:

    "On n'avait pas non plus toute l'expérience que l'on aurait eue aujourd'hui."

    That's a "self-made" sentence, but here's one of my textbook:

    "Le transport des passagers et celui des voitures, des cars et des camions n'y est possible que par train: par TGV ou, si on voyage en voiture, avec les trains-navettes qui traversent le tunnel en 35 minutes."

    Would you please tell me what's the correct term and which of them is colloquial?
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 8, 2012
  2. sophievm Senior Member

    Région parisienne
    France - français
    "qu'on" and "si on" are oral speech, "que l'on" and "si l'on" are written speech. I'm sorry to tell that what you have been taught is wrong !
  3. Jean-Michel Carrère Senior Member

    French from France
    Both forms are acceptable, but si on / qu'on (etc.) are loose forms whereas si l'on / que l'on (etc.) are more elevated forms.
  4. esteban Senior Member

    Colombia Spanish

    Hi Whodunit,

    On and l'on are supposed to be totally equivalent terms. Everytime you want to say or write on, you may as well use l'on. Cool, right?
    It is only a différence de style. I suggest you to check by yourself this site and click on the "on/l'on" link.
    There are a few recommandations when using one of these two terms. It is said that usually when you have to choose between on or l'on, you should pick the one that avoids hiatus (that's what happens when one syllable that ends with a vowel is followed by another syllable that starts with a vowel as well) but that's not the only consideration you should have...well what can I say just go and take a look...

    Bonne chance!

    Correct my English please
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 21, 2010
  5. Jabote Senior Member

    Mirabel, Quebec, Canada
    French from France
    Not quite esteban. You must not start a sentence with "L'on". I guess this is the only exception to the interchangeability of both wordings.

    "L'on" at the beginning of a sentence is faulty stylewise, and this even if more and more people use it to look stylish funnily enough... I just checked druide and everything they say is perfectly correct, except for their "L'on est bien peu de chose" example... Sorry !
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2010
  6. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    [The Druide recommendations] say that you should avoid the l' if a following word starts with an l eg le livre qu'on lit, but they should make clear that this is the case even when a object "le" etc follows, since this is much more common, eg "je n'avais pas vu qu'on l'avait peint".

    I always thought that people chose "que l'on" to avoid putting something homophonous with "con"!! I suppose that doesn't work if it's a written thing only. Do people ever say it? Did they ever?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2010
  7. esteban Senior Member

    Colombia Spanish
    Ah vous m'avez anticipé! Mais si le problème d'utiliser "on" ou "l'on" n'est qu'une question d'éviter une malsonnance alors pourquoi ne pourrait-on pas utiliser "l'on" en début de phrase...étant donné que je n'en sais pas plus que ça sur cette affaire, j'essaierai de me renseigner si je trouve du temps...
  8. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Au début, je voudrais remercier vous tous de ces réponses que j'apprécie beaucoup. Mais j'ai encore une question: S'il vous faut déterminer toutes les classes de mots, comment détermineriez-vous le pronom/l'article "l'" dans ce cas? A vrai dire, on peut pas l'appeler un article parce que on est pas de chose que l'on peut déterminer.

    Vous me comprenez? Sûrement pas. Mais laissez-moi l'expliquer:

    l'homme (article + une chose)
    la voiture (article + une chose)

    l'on (article + un pronom)

    C'est pas logique, à mon avis.

    Well, that's a very good point. I think that that is why you taught me not to use "qu'on", because it seems to be uneducated and offensive (because of 'con') ...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 20, 2009
  9. Gil Senior Member

    Français, Canada
    Pourrait vous intéresser. C'est pas trop qu'on.

    6° On admet devant lui l'article l', particulièrement dans les cas où l'euphonie l'exige. Pour paraître à mes yeux son mérite est trop grand, On n'aime pas à voir ceux à qui l'on doit tant, CORN. Nicom. II, 1. Il faut mettre que l'on et non pas qu'on devant des mots qui commencent par con ; je ne dirais pas qu'on conduise, mais que l'on conduise, VAUGEL. Rem. t. I, p. 32, dans POUGENS. C'est l'oreille seule qu'on doit prendre pour juge sur le choix d'on et de l'on, Acad. Observ. sur Vaugel. p. 15, dans POUGENS. Mais puisque l'on s'obstine à m'y vouloir réduire, MOL. Tart. IV, 5. C'est d'un roi que l'on tient cette maxime auguste, Que jamais on n'est grand qu'autant que l'on est juste, BOILEAU Sat. XI. Ce que l'on conçoit bien s'énonce clairement, ID. Art p. I. L'on hait avec excès lorsque l'on hait un frère, RAC. Théb. III, 6. L'on marche sur les mauvais plaisants ; et il pleut par tous pays de cette sorte d'insectes, LA BRUY. V. Pour éviter un hiatus ou pour rompre la mesure du vers dans la prose, il est très permis d'écrire l'on, et c'est le seul de nos pronoms substantifs qui, par lui-même et sans que cela change rien à sa nature, souffre quelquefois l'article, D'OLIVET, Ess. gramm. III, 1.
  10. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    This is an interesting point. Maybe slightly off topic but....(I mean what follows is slightly off topic)
    I think that written language "sounds", just like spoken language does. But obviously not to everybody. I'd never doubted that everyone was like me and heard the written words in their heads. But I was told recently by some people that they didn't.
    For someone who reads the same way as I do, of course, euphony is as important in written language as in spoken language.

    Along the same lines, I think what Gil quoted is in perfect agreement with the web page mentionned by esteban. For myself I've never really thought about it. I would simply write "on" when on sounded better and "l'on" when "l'on" sounded better.
    Isn't that more or less what is said in the mentionned comments ?

    We don't really need a rule, there. Or maybe just one : write* what sounds right.

    * or "say..." of course.
  11. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)

    Et LV4-26 - No, I don't think that's off topic, it's a good point. I can't decide if I read in my head or not. I am tempted to think not for two reasons, one is that I am aware of the fact that I tend to "skim read" slightly and the other is that on occasion, when I have been really preocupied about something, I realise after reading a paragraph that at the same time as reading I have been think about whatever it is and have taken nothing in of what I've just read.

    Also, would reading the sounds of "con" in your head be enough for people to start inserting the l'? It seems hard to believe, eg

    "-excuse me you've put a strange "le" in the middle of your sentence here.
    -Oh I do that because I don't like to think the sounds of con.
    - Fair enough, you're not a nutter then"

    I don't know!! If I had to guess I would say it seems more likely to me that " l'on" was original form based on the etymology of "the man" and slowly the l' fell but was kept to avoid "unfortunate" sounds such as "con". It's just a guess though.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 20, 2009
  12. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Yes, I understand what you mean.

    And it's different whether you're the reader or the writer. I'm sure you notice many less euphony problems when you read than you do when you write.
    When writing a text I'm very careful to how it would sound if spoken. (but as I suggested before, I don't have to read it aloud for that). When I read, I notice problems only if I decide to (you know :"now, let's see if that sounds right").

    I totally agree with what you said in your last paragraph, timpeac, this must be how it all happened.
  13. scandalously in love

    scandalously in love Senior Member

    Canada - English

    Que l'on is generally a literary style only, I believe, and it is more proper, formal-sounding. I think its very rare to hear someone say que l'on. Most people just say qu'on.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 21, 2010
  14. CARNESECCHI Senior Member

    French / France
    "On" is a weakened form or "homo" = human in latin. The story is "ille homo" > l"homme" >, "l'on" until then "on" was a noun, but the usage modified it and it became a pronoun. Since pronouns don't need an article, it remains only "on" but the old use has not yet completely disappeared and it's a little bit "old style" to say "c'est lui que l'on va chercher"
    Hope it helps!
  15. Lezert

    Lezert Senior Member

    french, France

    we use "l'on" only because sometimes it sounds better than "on":

    on fait ce qu'on veut
    on fait ce que l'on veut

    but it's not only in old texts that we use "l'on"

    Le monde de l'éducation, juin 2006:
    "Si l'on admet que le phénomène des casseurs ultraviolents qui a parasité les manifestations n'a rien à voir..."
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2010
  16. CARNESECCHI Senior Member

    French / France
    Yes! I agree, "old habits die hard" (and sometimes bounce back) and, today, we use the old version (l'on), the current one (on = "tout le monde") and the "coming" one (on = "nous"). That's why "on" raises so many questions !!
    Despite the critics, isn't this ability of our language to evolve in an understandable way wonderful!:D
    And tomorrow will show us the results of the current evolution (I will not bet on what it will be) !:)
  17. pjwnet Member

    Oxford, England
    English - UK
    Hello, just something that has bothered me from time to time, and I wonder if someone might be able to help?

    Is there a rule whereby one should insert the 'l' in a phrase such as: Il faut que l'on fasse qch... Or would 'il faut qu'on fasse qch...' be equally acceptable?

    I think I have seen and heard such phrases with and without the 'l' and indeed it might even sound awkward if you wished to translate, for example 'you have to do it' as 'il faut que l'on le fasse' ?

    Any guidance would be much appreciated...
  18. mapping Senior Member

    Lille, France
    France, French
    que l'on is more formal and more frequent in written langauge . the other one is a shortnened variation, less formal and more frequent in spoken language. they mean exactly the same . it is not necessary to translate the extra L . it is just there to link the words together .
  19. zaby

    zaby Senior Member


    In such phrases "l" is added only for the euphony. It doesn't have any meaning and should not be translated.

    This "l" is not mandatory, 'il faut qu'on fasse qch...' is equally acceptable.

    As you said, 'il faut que l'on le fasse' sounds awkward, in this case, I wouldn't add this "l" : "il faut qu'on le fasse"
  20. Clara_ Senior Member

    French - France
    Never say "l'on le" or "l'on la". In this case take the "l'" off.

    'il faut qu'on le fasse'
    'il faut le faire'
    'il faut faire cela'
    are correct.
  21. john_riemann_soong

    john_riemann_soong Senior Member

    Singapore / United States
    English, Singlish, Chinese; Singapore
    I like the use of "on" as an ablative pronoun especially since English has no real equivalent; the pronoun "one" tends to make for really ugly and awkward circumlocutions in English, but French uses it so nicely between friends. :)

    Anyway, so is the use of "l'on" euphonic, kind of like velours, to avoid hiatus between vowels? Kind of like "y a-t-il" or "moi-z-avec"?

    "D'où l'on vient" = "D'où on vient"?
  22. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    I've always noticed it most often in the construction que l'on ... it seems at times Blanchot uses it in every other sentence ... so I had assumed it was a way of avoiding inserting the sound of the word con into langue soutenue.
  23. Luis Albornoz

    Luis Albornoz Senior Member

    Santa Fe
    Castellano - Argentina
    On peut être remplacé par l'on en FE et même parfois en FP.

    L'on n'y comprend plus rien=On n'y comprend plus rien

    Si l'on veut=Si on veut

    L'endroit où l'on va.
  24. genevois

    genevois Senior Member

    Genève, Suisse
    Il faut que l'on se voie avant ...

    Il faut qu'on se voie avant ...

    Are both of them correct?

    Merci d'avance.
  25. Alven Member

    French, Switzerland
    I would say that "il faut qu'on se voie avant" is more coloquial than "il faut que l'on se voie". So I would suggest you use the second one.
  26. velt Member

    France, French

    It's become very rare to use "l'on" in casual speech (it sounds nicer than "on" alone, though).
    This L doesn't alter the meaning in any way, if that's what you were worried about. It is not a contraction either. It's just a funny thingy.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 21, 2010
  27. ymc Senior Member

    the l' is there to separate two vowels


    que (finishes with a vowel) + l'on
    où (finishes with a vowel) + l'on

    it's a way to avoid qu'on, when you want to use better language, or when the rythm of the sentence is clearer with an added syllable.

    In any case, it doesn't change the meaning at all. It is just a question of register really.
  28. hamer1970 Senior Member

    [Moderator note: this thread split from a separate discussion]

    What is the difference between 'qu'on puisse faire' et 'que l'on puisse faire'?

    I have always wondered when to use l'on versus on in this kind of construction. Thanks.
  29. Paf le chien

    Paf le chien Senior Member

    France-French (Paris)
    There is no difference. It's only euphonical : the " l' " has no grammatical meaning and is only here for the sound/ears.

    "que on" (two vowels) can give both:

    - qu'on
    - que l'on
  30. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    The "l" is there for euphony reasons; basically, you have que + on. Either you drop the "e" in "que", and you have "qu'on" (spoken French mostly), or you don't, and you add the "l" > "que l'on" (speeches or written French)
    [ke on] vs [kelon]
  31. hamer1970 Senior Member

    Oh that makes sense. So if I were writing something I should use l'on, for example on an examination?
  32. pheelineerie

    pheelineerie Senior Member

    Lawrence, Kansas, USA
    American English
    Unless there's an L nearby

    For example you wouldn't do it here: "elle voulait qu'on l'appelle marie"
  33. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    If you want to write something like "les responsabilités que/on m'a données", yes, it's better to write 'les responsabilités que l'on m'a données"
  34. Questionnert Member

    English, French
    Y a-t-il qq'un qui peut m'expliquer quand on met le "l'" devant "on" et quand ne pas le faire?

    Je vois dans des textes sérieux et "le mot qu'on dit..." et "le mot que l'on dit..."
  35. GrammarFreak

    GrammarFreak Senior Member

    Geneva, Switzerland
    French (France) - English (Australia)
    Il n'y a pas de règle. L'utilisation du l' est simplement plus soutenue. A l'oral, il est très rarement utilisé. On le voit plus souvent à l'écrit dans des textes plutôt intellectuels.
  36. sam's mum

    sam's mum Senior Member

    England English
    I was told that 'que l'on' is used to avoid 'qu'on' which sounds rude. (=con) Is that right?
  37. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Not at all. It's just that que l'on is a bit more literary than qu'on, but the latter is not considered as bad language…


    The extra l' is definitely for the euphony. I just mean that I don't think it's related to the qu'on = con analogy…
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 21, 2010
  38. marget Senior Member

    I wonder if we can add the definite article to on, as in où l'on and si l'on as well because the pronoun was based on the noun "homo"? It's as though we were saying" l'homme..." It's also interesting to note that we can only use the pronoun as a subject because it has something to do with the fact that it developed from the nominative case, I think.
  39. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    It is not a definite article, merely a letter added for the sake of euphony. Note further that if the following word begins with "l" the euphonic l' is not used.

    C'est l'endroit où l'on s'est égaré.
    C'est l'endroit où on l'a retrouvé.

    In addition to que, si and où, the euphonic l' is also found after et and ou.

  40. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I fully agree that l' (in l'on) is not a definite article in modern French. However I don't think it's incorrect to say it used to be one since the etymology of the pronoun on supports that idea:

    homo (latin) → l'hom(me) → l'on → on
  41. marget Senior Member

    But then I found this mention. It appears that l' could have been considered the definite article at one point, I think.
    GREVISSE, Le Bon Usage, 13e éd., § 725, f) :
    De son état ancien de nom
    [*], on garde la faculté d'être ACCOMPAGNÉ DE L'ARTICLE DÉFINI dans la langue écrite. [..] En fait, les auteurs en usent assez librement, soit qu'ils mettent "on" seul alors qu'il y a un hiatus, soit qu'ils emploient "l'on" après un mot terminé par une consonne articulée ou par un "e" muet ou encore après un point.
    [*] - Dans le § 724-a-historique, Grevisse, citant Bloch-Wartburg, rappelle que on représente le nominatif latin homo (l'homme au sens d'être humain), le cas régime de l'ancien français étant ome. C'est le sens originel d'on (un homme a vu, quelqu'un a vu, on a vu) qui a progressivement pris la valeur de nous. On évitera cependant les allitérations douteuses. On dira On l'a vu et non L'on l'a vu...
  42. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I'd say that l' is referred to as a definite article because it can't be described as any other grammatical entity. But here it doesn't play the role of an article and is totally useless from a grammatical perspective. In this sense it is similar to the ne explétif
  43. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    Who am I to argue with Grevisse? Capello, I think you're on track with the notion of the difference between old French and modern French. I for one have always assumed that the l' was merely added for the sake of euphony. It is clearly the case today, but in old French the articles were used or omitted, almost whimsically, so it is entirely reasonable that Marget felt as she did.

  44. sam's mum

    sam's mum Senior Member

    England English
    I tremble to re-enter this very learned discussion which is way above my head, but here goes. If I understand it correctly, l'on today, whatever it used to be, is for euphony. Why then is it mostly written, not spoken?
  45. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    Native speakers will have to answer this one. My own view is that it is not limited to the written language.
  46. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Most likely because omitting the l' doesn't sound much worse than if you pronounce it and because people tend to use as few syllables as possible (que l'on = 2 syllables; qu'on = 1 syllable)…
  47. doree Member

    U.S. English
    Dans un roman que j'ai lu j'ai vu "on" et "l'on" dans la meme phrase. Je me demande si on emploie "l'on" apres une voyelle et "on" apres une consonne. Dans le forum on a dit que "l'on" est pour l'usage litteraire et que les francais ne disent pas "l'on" mais plutot "on." Ca me confond un peu.
  48. Cilquiestsuens Senior Member


    L'on est une version ancienne et la forme originale de ce pronom.... La forme la plus ancienne est actuellement l'om, l'ome (l'homme)

    On est sa forme moderne.

    Utiliser l'on, sonne beau et est un usagé littéraire et élégant
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2010
  49. genevois

    genevois Senior Member

    Genève, Suisse

    I vaguely recall that I read somewhere that "que l'on ..." is more formal than "qu'on ..." An example: J'ai remarqué que l'on a fait la modification.

    Can anyone confirm this? Many thanks. Of course it would be even better if you can elaborate a little bit or copy here the URL where I can see more discussions.

    Merci d'avance.
  50. titi22 Senior Member

    french FRANCE
    "qu'on" would generally be used when you speak whereas "que l'on" would be written. [...] You can tell it to avoid this "con" sound. But you can also say "que l'on" when you have to tell a speech or when you make part of a serious discussion (e.g. work, university,...)
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2010

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