Categories: French Grammar

C’est Vs Il Est in French

When to use “c’est” or “il est/ elle est”

C’est Vs Il Est: In English, “he is” and “she is” are usually for people and “it is” for things and animals.
In French, it depends on the gender, so” il est”, “elle est” or “c’est” can be used for people, animals or things.

Video: here

Rule number 1 sentences with a noun,  “c’est”:

  • He is my cousin (cousin is a noun) no the correct translation is: c’est mon cousin (we cannot say: il est mon cousin here)
  • It is my book: c’est mon livre
  • It is my dog: c’est mon chien
  • He is a good doctor: c’est un bon docteur (adjective + noun: always c’est)

Rule number 2 sentences with no noun (adjective only):

2 possibilities:

  • A- Speaking generally: c’est
  • B- Speaking specifically: il est or elle est

Examples:

a- After climbing a mountain, you can say about the sight:
wow, it is wonderful: ouah, c’est magnifique!

But referring to the mountains you have in front of you:
wow, they are beautiful: ouah, elles sont belles!

b- Speaking generally about flowers:
Flowers are beautiful: les fleurs, c’est beau
we can also say, les fleurs sont belles, but the first sentence is more french.
When you want to describe something, you can use: c’est.

Referring to the flowers you can see in your garden:
The flowers are beutiful: les fleurs, elles sont belles!

c- Ice is cold, it is true all the time, so there are general terms: la glace, c’est froid!

Referring to the ice in your glass: la glace, elle est froide!

Rule number 3 adjective + noun

Always “c’est”
Il est docteur: c’est un bon docteur
Il est vieux: c’est un vieil arbre

Useful Expressions:

It is easy: c’est facile
It is beautiful: c’est beau
It is true: c’est vrai
It is important: c’est important
It is great: c’est génial
It is life: c’est la vie
What is it? Qu’est-ce que c’est?
It is finished: c’est fini!
i.e. : c’est-à-dire

Rules:

Sentences with a noun: c’est

Sentences with no noun: 2 possibilities:

  • In general: c’est
  • In particular: Il est, elle est, ils sont, elles sont.

See the lesson Ce vs Cela or ça: Here

Some tips:

C’est is sometimes used with plural, it is not all the times correct but tolerated in the spoken language.
For example, you may hear: c’est les enfants qui arrivent but it is correct to say ce sont les enfants.

However, it is correct with the time and plural pronouns:
C’est 10 heures qui sonnent but il est 10 heures (with time: il est)
C’est vous? (vous here is the plural form) quelle surprise! (or c’est nous but ce sont eux!)
Est-ce vous qui avez appelé? (did you call?)

C’EST FINI!

Pascal Dherve

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Pascal Dherve

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