FR: c'est (un/une) X / il/elle est X

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Meysha, Dec 4, 2004.

  1. Meysha

    Meysha Member

    Brisbane, Australia
    Australia, English
    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one

    Hello all!

    I need some help with understanding the difference of il est and c'est and when to use them.
    My french teacher told me just to use c'est because it's used 90% of the time. Is there a rule more concrete than this out there somewhere?!

    It's something so little but really really annoying.

    for example: If I were talking about a fast bus would I say:
    C'est rapide. or
    Il est rapide.

    In this context does "c'est" indicate the trip done in the bus is fast?
    and "il est" that the bus itself is fast?

    Also, could you please give me some more examples? maybe with verbs other than être.

    Thanks a million!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 3, 2010
  2. OlivierG

    OlivierG Senior Member

    Toulouse, France
    France / Français
    You are right.

    If the subject is well defined, then you'll use "il est".
    Otherwise, you'll use "c'est".

    "Pour aller au centre ville, il faut prendre le bus. C'est rapide".
    Here, "c'est" doesn't apply to the bus itself, but to the trip

    But "Prends le bus de la ligne 74. Il est rapide"
    Here, we speak about the bus itself.

    BTW In Toulouse, it's often faster to take the "métro" to go to the city center. :)
  3. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    As far as I know, I consider "il est" more correct and/or more formal than "c'est" in such expressions as "Il est vrai que...", "Il est midi et quart" etc.
    Yet there are some expressions as "c'est la vie" or "c'est moi" (meaning "it's me") where you couldn't use "il est"...let's wait for native French people!

  4. OlivierG

    OlivierG Senior Member

    Toulouse, France
    France / Français
    In fact, "c'est" is the contraction of "cela est" (this is), if it can be of help.
    So "il est rapide" = "it is fast"
    "c'est rapide" = "this is fast"
  5. bongbang Senior Member

    I think that's a little too simplistic. To use the bus example, an English speaker would probably never say "this is fast" unless she's actually riding (or at least pointing at) the fast-traveling bus. In all other cases, she would simply say "it's fast". In French, it's "c'est rapide" that's common and "il est rapide" that's exceptional.

    Still confused myself, I have a couple of questions of my own.

    I went to a party last night. It was fun.
    C'était amusant. (Would "il était" be possible here? And this takes the imparfait, not the passé composé, right?)

    It's time to...
    Il est l'heure de... (Would "ce" be possible here?)
  6. Agnès E.

    Agnès E. Senior Member

    France, French
    No, Olivier's examples were absolutely perfect and not interchangeable.

    Right. :)

    Yes, but it would be colloquial, as the correct way would be il est l'heure de... C'est l'heure
    would be used alone, to be correct:

    - Alors, quand est-ce qu'on part ?
    - On y va, c'est l'heure !

    - Alors, quand est-ce qu'on part ?
    - On y va, il est l'heure de partir !

    This is the theory... ;)
  7. pitstop

    pitstop Senior Member

    Great Britain
    United Kingdom
    Can someone please tell me why you would use C'est as opposed to il est - or can you use either at any time?
  8. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    Tough one!
    The first meaning of "il est" is "he is", when "c'est" means "it is" - so it might seem easy put that way, but it's a bit more tricky.
    There are cases when "il est" will stand for "it is"!!

    I don't know if there's a rule, or if there are just exceptions...
    For example, to say "It is time!", you will say "Il est temps !" ("It's about time" will turn to the past: "Il était temps")
    But you can also say "C'est l'heure" or "Il est l'heure" (d'aller manger, for ex.), and it will mean the same. I feel the "Il est l'heure" will insist a bit more, kind of like you say "I do love you" instead of "I love you" - it presses the point.

    Someone can probably complete what I've said. Actually, I can't think of another sentence where you would use "Il est" to mean "It is"...
  9. zam

    zam Senior Member

    England -french (mother tongue) & english
  10. Jessila

    Jessila Senior Member

    France, french
    In this link, there are a few mistakes...
    The worse being: "Ce sont très loin." which is totally incorrect !
    You might say: "C'est très loin" (if speaking of a defined place)
    or " Il / Elle est très loin." _ " Ils / Elles sont très loin." depending on the context.

    Also for this example given on the link: "C'est bizarre, ce livre."
    I would never say that! I would say "Il est bizarre ce livre." Here "il" means "that book" ("livre" is of male gender in french) as in "That book is weird". You add "ce livre" at the end of the sentence to define what "il" was referring to.
    But "C'est" would mean "It is weird, that book." I don't know how this sentence sounds to English natives, but it sure sounds weird to me! And so does it in french :)
  11. zam

    zam Senior Member

    England -french (mother tongue) & english
    I agree with you Jess, they should really have the whole thing thoroughly checked but give or take the odd typo or mistake, the explanations are really useful, and as a whole the site really is a must for learners of French, be it beg., intermediate or advanced level.
  12. mayflyaway Senior Member

    English (USA)
    On a similiar note, when does one use "Il/Elle" vs. "Ce/Ça?" For instance, my bank card didn't work for three weeks, and I noticed the native speakers saying "Elle ne marche pas?" whereas in english you would never use "she" unless you were talking about a human or animal of that specific sex - you would use "it" in every other instance, unless you were speaking about a familiar inanimate object that you adore, like the way a man refers to a car as "she." Now that I'm thinking about it, though, I can't really think of when a woman gives a sex to an inanimate object. Interesting.
  13. aafrophone New Member

    English, United States of America
    what's the difference between "c'est" and "il est". i know that they both can mean "it is" but thats all i know. i know that sometimes i see c'est and sometimes i see 'il est'. i doubt that they are interchangeable. sorry, but i don't have any specific examples or anything.
  14. Old Novice

    Old Novice Senior Member

    USA, English
    I would defer immediately to the native francophones on this, but my understanding is that at least one difference is that "c'est" usually identifies a specific person or thing, or something specific about them, while "il est" presents some descriptive characteristic (including profession) of the person or thing.


    "Il est fort", versus, "C'est un homme très fort."

    "Il est professeur", versus, "C'est un bon professeur."

    I'd be very grateful for any corrections or clarifications on this topic, which can indeed be very confusing for novices.
  15. Txertudi

    Txertudi Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    English & Euskera
    Grosso motto, these guidelines are fairly helpful.

    -C'est is used whenever a demonstrative pronoun (this, that, these, etc) is called for. C'est bien! To pluralize, do not use Ces sont: rather, use ce sont, as in Ce sont de jolies fleures.

    -Il est is used in expressions of time (Il est 14h35, etc).

    -Il est is used in all manner of fixed expressions, where Il means it: Il est important que, il est l'heure de, il est certain que, il est douteux que, etc... Gramatically, this is the 'correct' way to say these things. However, in common parlance, C'est can be inserted into any of the expressions of this last subset: C'est important que, C'est l'heure de, C'est certain que, C'est douteux que, etc...

    This is not exhaustive, but may help a bit!
  16. Texas Heat Wave Member

    English, USA
    The usage in the sentence determines which expression is appropriate. Do keep in mind that both expressions can be used to refer to people and things or ideas.

    He is my friend - C'est mon ami.
    It (a pen) is red - Il est rouge.

    This concept is sometimes hard for the English-speaking (or at least American) brain to wrap itself around, because we want "it" to be one word, and "he" to be another. There are lots of examples in these postings to give you an idea. Bonne chance!
  17. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Another nuance to bear in mind is that "c'est" can denote the whole effect, it's a bit wider than "il est" (or elle est).

    J'aime cette robe. Elle est jolie - I like that dress. It is a pretty one.
    J'aime cette robe. C'est joli. - I like that dress. It looks pretty on you (or some other nuance depending on the context).
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2013
  18. Julz Senior Member

    I would also say that "il est" is used more to describe something (kind of in general), like something controlled by nature, if you will. Like the time, temperature, and anything which means "it" as an impersonal being (and not referring to a direct object). Like "il est possible" (as mentioned above) "il est necessaire" and "il faut", etc. In English you would most likely use "il est" in the sense of Mother Nature.

    It's really difficult to explain in just one simple rule (that's why there are a few above), so you really need to learn a lot of the phrases using "il est", and ones using "c'est". Once you become experienced with these you will be able to figure for yourself the difference (and then be able to make an accurate prediction on whether or not you should use il est or c'est in certain cases), but putting it into words is just too hard without riddling you with several different guidelines.
  19. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    “C’est” vs. “Il est”

    “C’est” is used:

    - For dates/days/months/seasons/years:

    C’est le 17 février = It’s the 17th of February
    C’est jeudi = It’s Thursday
    C’est avril = It’s April
    C’est l’hiver = It’s winter
    C’est l’an 2000 = It’s the year 2000
    C’est l’année 2001 = It’s 2001

    - For profession with article:

    C’est un médecin = He’s a doctor
    C’est le médecin = He’s the doctor

    - For the inhabitants of a country:

    C’est un français = He’s a Frenchman

    - When NOT followed by an adjective:

    C’est un désastre = It’s a disaster
    C’est Paul = It’s Paul
    C’est pour toi = It’s for you

    “Il est” is used:

    - For clock time:

    Il est huit heures = It’s eight o’clock

    - For profession (without article):

    Il est médecin = He’s a doctor

    - For nationality:

    Il est français = He is French

    Where both ‘Il est’ and ‘C’est’ are possible:

    - When followed by an adjective, both “c’est” and “il est” are possible, but the meaning changes:

    Il est stupide = He is stupid
    C’est stupide = That’s stupid/silly

    Il est curieux = He is curious/inquisitive
    C’est curieux = That’s curious/odd

    Il est incroyable = He’s amazing
    C’est incroyable = That’s unbelievable

    - When followed by an adjective which is then followed by a clause or infinitive, both “c’est” and “il est” are possible and the meaning stays the same. Note that most old grammar books say that only ‘il est’ is correct:

    Il/c’est possible que nous allions d’excursion = It’s possible that we are going on a trip

    Il/c’est difficile de parler français = It’s difficult to speak French
  20. JMA1999 New Member

    Canada, français
    [...] Lots of good answers already.

    Txerutudi's guidelines look great.

    timpeac is right, although You would not usually say J'aime ta robe and the add c'est joli. You did add on you in English. The broader context has to be very clear not to be mentioned otherwise it sounds like a mistake. If you stop the sentence after joli, then you are referring to the dress and need to use the personal pronoun. You have to bear in mind that c'est is demonstrative.
    Of course in expressions of time it may not be obvious, but when I say c'est jeudi, I mean that this (demonstrative) day is jeudi.

    Tresley has lots of good examples. In those cases where we use c'est in French you could replace he's by this person is or replace it's by this is and keep the same meaning.

    To his remark about the old grammar books I would say that I would only write il est even though I often say c'est. I make the same difference between cela et ça. C'est une question de niveau de langue.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 3, 2010
  21. Old Novice

    Old Novice Senior Member

    USA, English
    "Of course in expressions of time it may not be obvious, but when I say c'est jeudi, I mean that this (demonstrative) day is jeudi."

    I was told by une Parisienne I know that the phrase for what day it is, is either "nous sommes jeudi" or "on est jeudi", rather than "c'est jeudi". Are all three right, or are there regional or national differences?
  22. JMA1999 New Member

    Canada, français
    Those are right too.
    On es jeudi is for talking, more than writing.
    I would never say nous sommes jeudi but may be they say it in Paris. I would see it more in a formal speech or in writing.
    As a question, I would ask :Quel jour est-ce, aujourd'hui? ou Quel jour on est aujourd'hui? (more informal)
    I would answer to either question: either c'est jeudi, ou on est vendredi!

    About on: it can be used either as a neuter pronoun or as a replacement of nous. The latter, on is more informal or spoken language. The former can be used in more formal writing as well.
  23. hamer1970 Senior Member

    A pretty rudimentary question I know, and there's probably an answer for it somewhere on this forum but I didn't find one.

    Which is correct, and can someone tell me why?

    J'ai ton livre. Il est sur la table.


    J'ai ton livere. C'est sur la table.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 3, 2010
  24. Blancheneige

    Blancheneige Senior Member

    Lac Léman, Switzerland
    Switzerland - French
  25. tetsuo34 New Member

    France - Français
    "J'ai ton livre. Il est sur la table." is more nice.
  26. Puellam audiam

    Puellam audiam Senior Member

    Taiwanese, Mandarin

    J'ai vu dans mon livre de la Grammaire française cette phrase:
    Il est interdit de fumer dans la salle.

    Je voudrais savoir si c'est possible de dire:
    "C'est interdit de fumer dans la salle."?

    ça marche ou pas? Si ça ne marche pas, pourquoi?
    Si ça marche mais il y aurait different sens, es que vous pouvez m'expliqer?

    Merci d'avance!!!
  27. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Je pense que ça marche, mais la deuxième version est plutôt du langage parlé.
  28. Elmarit Senior Member


    Tu peux employer « c'est », mais si tu t'adresses à quelqu'un à l'oral (et d'une manière familière) :)
  29. redrose Member

    England British English
    Can anyone help me with this problem?
    My French textbook gives the following example:-

    [- Mon mari et moi, on va voir Doux réveur à l’Odéon ce soir.]
    - N’y allez pas, je l’ai vu, ce n’est pas très bon.

    My grammar text suggests that this should be
    N’y allez pas, je l’ai vu, il n’est pas très bon.
    • because il refers back to a noun which has just been mentioned (the film).
    Am I misunderstanding the rule? Or can it be broken in colloquial speech?

    Thanks in advance.
  30. Harmione Senior Member

    Switzerland French
    Yes, you're right: colloquial speech but the 2 sentences are perfectly correct
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2013
  31. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL, Sp-En mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Your grammar text is perfectly right here as it does refer to the film.
    N’y allez pas, je l’ai vu, il n’est pas très bon.

    Maybe you're confused with things like this:
    "J'ai acheté 2 jupes pour 10£ !" - I bought 2 skirts for £10.
    "Wow, c'est vraiment pas cher" - Wow, that's not expensive.

    "Regarde ma nouvelle jupe : elle est super belle & elle ne m'a coûté que 10£"
    "Look at my new skirt: it (=my new skirt) is very nice & it cost me only £10"

    Well maybe I've confused you even more now :eek:

    Don't hesitate to ask if you have other problems on specific sentences :)
  32. joanpeace Senior Member

    Alberta, Canada
    Canada - English
    Bonjour tous,

    I have just started learning French and am confused about when to use c'est and when to use il est or elle est. My son (who took French in school) suggested the word "ce" for objects and "il/elle" for people, however on my Pimsleur ll and Pimsleur lll CD's, I am prompted to say "il est sur la table" when referring to a previously mentioned object (i.e. a pen).

    Perhaps I missed something on the Pimsleur CD. All I know is I'm constantly stumbling because I don't know for sure when to use each form.

    Est-ce qu'il y a quelqu'un qui peut m'aider?


    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 3, 2010
  33. citrouillefr Member

    United States, English
    They are used almost interchangeably in spoken conversation, as far as I understand. The functional difference is related to the notion of topic versus comment. If a person or object has already been mentioned in a conversation, you'll probably use il est/ elle est. (Elle est musicienne) If the person or object is being introduced in the conversation for the first time, you are more likely to use c'est. (Julie, c'est une musicienne)

    Here are some rules:

    When talking about professions:
    Elle est musicienne.
    Il est professeur.

    If you choose to use c'est, it must be followed by un/une
    C'est une musicienne.
    C'est un professeur.

    If you use an adjective along with the profession, you MUST use c'est
    C'est une excellente musicienne.
    C'est un bon professeur.
  34. Gil Senior Member

    Français, Canada
    Il est sur la table => He or it is on the table

    C'est sur la table => This is on the table (or That) The subject is not a person.
  35. PetiteDanone

    PetiteDanone Senior Member

    Toronto, ON
    Canada, French/Français
    Hi Joanpeace!

    The "trick" that alot of people use is as follows (it's not really a "trick" but that's ok, it works) :

    Let's use your example of "Où est la plume?" ; "La plume (the pen) est sur la table". If you are not sure if you should use "C'est sur la table" or "Elle est sur la table", see if the sentence still makes sense if you seperate the conjunction "C'est" to it's full form of "cela est".

    Does "Cela est sur la table" make sense? no... You are basically saying, in english, "Where is the pen?" ; "that is on the table"
    Does "Elle est sur la table" make sense? yes... When you are referring to an object, you can use "Il" and "Elle". In english, you are saying : "where is the pen" ; "It is on the table"

    That's a general rule of thumb, in layman's terms, without going into the ins and outs of french grammar. If you want something more specific, I would wait for an expert to weigh in, or I would pick up a "bécherelle" and have a quick read on the different "pronoms" used in the french language.

  36. verbivore Banned

    USA, English
    Ok, I'm somewhat versed on this subject. There are definite rules to follow.

    If answering a question that ends with il or elle, answer with il ou elle. Example: Quelle heure est-il? IL EST 10h. By the way, expressions of time are never used with "c'est", always with Il est.
    If it ends with "c'est" answer with "C'est." Example, Qu'est-ce que c'est? C'est mon livre.
    If the question contains an adverb
    Où est mon portable? IL EST sur le comptoir où tu l'as laissé.

    The rest depends on how formal you want to be: Mon nouveau jeu video te plait? Ouais, c'est chouette. OU Bien sur, il est tres bien.

    Usually when describing objects using adjectives, C'est is preferred.
    When referring back to what was previously mentioned, you always use "C'est." For example, Vous avez raison monsieur: c'est evident.

    I'm sure you could find more on the topic in an advanced grammar book, but all the responses thus far should be more than enough to get you by.

  37. StevieX Member

    Hi All,

    I am trying to be able to distinguish when to use "il est" or "c'est". I underdstand they are not interchangeable. I have just seen 2 examples
    that now confuse me :

    C'est difficile à décider.

    Il est impossible à décider.

    Both contain an adjective, preposition and verb in the infinitive.

  38. Shlublu New Member

    92 - FR
    France - FR

    This one is very very difficult, as this is mostly usage. I tried to begin an answer but it was becoming a dissertation. I'll try to think about it and get back to you.

    In your example, the first one refers to a fact, while the second one refers to a person.
  39. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    I'm sure this has been discussed several times, but ...

    ll/Elle est + adjective + à + infinitive would normally only be possible if the pronoun had a noun antecedent, such as:

    J'adore ce roman, mais il est difficile à lire.

    C'est + adjective + à + infinitive is usual, when the ce refers to a preceding idea.

    J'adore danser le twist, mais à mon age c'est impossible à faire.

    In both cases, the "it" relates to something preceding.

    Hope this helps.

    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2013
  40. day_von_j Member

    UK English
    i am a bit confused by this.. please can you help?

    When would I use "il est " and when would I use "C'est" for writing "It is"?

    Is there a certain rule? For example, in the following sentence..

    It is difficult to find..

    Il est difficule a trouver

    C'est difficile de trouver

    Also the a/de ? What is the rule for that too please

    Thanks :O)
  41. omahieu Senior Member

    Belgium and French
    It's difficult to find a rule...

    In your example, the best form (IMO) is 'Il est difficile de trouver'. Ce/c' would also be acceptable but would be more colloquial. As for à/de, it's definitely de ; "il est difficile à trouver" would mean "he is difficult to find".

    I would say that when it refers to a precise object or situation, use ce/c' and use 'il' when it's neutral.

    For example: It's difficult ! (it refers to something) so it's C'est difficile.
    In 'It's difficult to find,' it doesn't refer to something precise so Il est difficile de touver is better.
  42. Areyou Crazy

    Areyou Crazy Senior Member

    Versailles PARIS
    England English speaker
    j'ai lu et j'ai entendu qu'on peut dire il est difficile ou c'est difficile
    Il est
    est utilisé dans une langue soutenu et il est consideré plus soutenu je crois.
    mais ca depends du adjectif
    je trouve que c'est un sujet tres difficile...
    J'aime Johny haliday c'est un chanter excellent...

    This kind of phrase really confuses me. I never know when I must say Il est ou c'est
    I think it may relate to non definining clauses but I don't know!

    +++ il est difficile d'apprendre le chinois
    un gateaux facile à faire

    look where the object in the sentence is
    Personally I look where the thing we are talking about is it saves 'brainache' thinking time but I recommend reading grammar books!
  43. omahieu Senior Member

    Belgium and French

    Ça dépend.

    Si « il » ne désigne rien de particulier, les deux peuvent être utilisés.

    Il est difficile d'apprendre le chinois. :tick:C'est difficile d'apprendre le chinois. :tick:

    Le premier sera néanmoins préférable à l'écrit.
    Par contre, si « il » désigne quelque chose de précis, seul « ça » peut pas être utilisé.
    C'est un sujet très difficile. :tick:
    Il est un sujet très difficile. :cross:

  44. omahieu Senior Member

    Belgium and French
    Come to think of it, there is a rule of thumb that seems to apply.

    If you can use both it / this / that (It's a very difficult subject), use ce (or c') / ceci / cela (or ça).

    If you can use only “it” (It's difficult to learn Chinese), use either “ce” or “il,” with a preference for “il” in written communication.
  45. Icetrance Senior Member

    US English
    C'est un sujet difficile pour les non-natifs. Pour la plupart, je comprends bien la règle.

    Prenons donc cet exemple:

    Je ne vois rien d'incorrect dans cette phrase. C'est une question tout simplement de préférence, àmha.

    Why can't I say "Ici, il est question tout simplement de préférence?"à la place de"Ici, c'est tout simplement une question de préférence"?Couldn't you say"Ici, il s'agit de/On parle de préférence, àmha"? Is it because c'est refers to something that's already been mentioned, whereas "il est question" refers to something that has not?

    Je suis confus.:confused:
  46. Harmione Senior Member

    Switzerland French
    "C'est une question de" et "il est question" n'ont pas tout à fait le même sens:

    "Dans cet ouvrage, il est question de l'affrontement entre..." c'est un il qu'on appelle impersonnel, qui ne réfère à rien.

    "C'est une question de..." reprend le contenu de ce qui précède
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2013
  47. Icetrance Senior Member

    US English
    Merci énormément. Je pense comprendre maintenant.

    Les deux phrases suivantes, ont-elles le même sens, plus ou moins?

    Je ne vois rien d'incorrect dans cette phrase. C'est tout simplement une question de préférence.

    Ici, dans ce cas, il est tout simplement question de préférence. Donc, je ne vois pas rien d'incorrect dans cette phrase.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2013
  48. Harmione Senior Member

    Switzerland French
    C'est tout simplement une question de préférence.:tick: Oui, moi je le dirais comme ça
    Ici, dans ce cas, il est tout simplement question de préférence. :cross:

    A cause du ce cas, qui réfère à qqch qui précède, on ne va pas utiliser il, en tout cas à l'oral
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 9, 2013
  49. Icetrance Senior Member

    US English
    Puis-je dire: «Ici, il est tout simplement question de préférence. Donc, je ne vois pas rien d'incorrect dans cette phrase»?

    Mais, à l'écrit, j'ai vu avant «Ici, dans ce cas, il est question de...».

    Je dois dire que je ne suis pas sûr de t'avoir compris(e)?

    Merci d'avance pour m'éclairer.:warn::)
  50. Harmione Senior Member

    Switzerland French
    «Ici, il est tout simplement question de préférence. Donc, je ne vois pas rien d'incorrect dans cette phrase»?

    (= je ne vois rien d'incorrect)Votre phrase n'est pas vraiment fausse. Mais je dirais que 90% des francophones utiliseraient c'est dans ce cas et pas il est comme vous le faites.

    il est question de : pour introduire un sujet et niveau de langue plus formel
    c'est une question de : on se réfère à une question déjà définie

    est-ce plus clair?

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