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

Meysha

Member
Australia, English
Moderator note: This question is extremely common. A multitude of threads have been merged to create this one. This thread is therefore very long and discusses many different examples. If you still have a doubt after reading it, please do not open a new thread, but ask your question at the end of this thread.

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!
 
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  • OlivierG

    Senior Member
    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. :)
     

    DDT

    Senior Member
    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!

    DDT
     

    pkcode

    Member
    Latvia, Latvian
    I am doing an exercise and I have to use either
    Il est or Elle est or C'est un or C'est une.

    I quickly did the exercise and to my surprise I had put 'Il/Elle est' everywhere!
    So I changed in some places the usage.

    As I understand I use 'Il/Elle est' when i talk about persons.
    And "C'est un/une" when I tell about places?
    Did I understand correctly?

    1) Jacqueline vit a Paris. Elle est secretaire. Elle est jeune femme tres sympatique. Elle est mariee avec Jaques.
    Lui, il est professeur. Il parle anglais et allemand. Il est homme charmant.

    2) Je vous presente Alberto. Il est ami mexicain. Il est etudiant en architecture.

    3) J'habite a Quimper. C'est une petite ville de l'Ouest de la France.
    Ma femme n'est pas bretonne. Elle est alsacienne.

    4) -Tu connais Maryline? Il est fille tres sympathique. Elle est institutraice a Dole.
    - Dole?
    - C'est une petite ville dans le Jura.


    Thanks!
     

    Jabote

    Senior Member
    French from France
    pkcode said:
    1) Jacqueline vit a Paris. Elle est secretaire. C'est une jeune femme tres sympatique. Elle est mariee avec Jaques.
    Lui, il est professeur. Il parle anglais et allemand. C'est un homme charmant.

    2) Je vous presente Alberto. C'est un ami mexicain. Il est etudiant en architecture.

    3) J'habite a Quimper. C'est une petite ville de l'Ouest de la France. Ma femme n'est pas bretonne. Elle est alsacienne.

    4) -Tu connais Maryline? C'est une fille tres sympathique. Elle est institutraice a Dole.
    - Dole?
    - C'est une petite ville dans le Jura.

    Here you are.... But to explain... I wonder where I've put the rule on this.... I'm at a loss to explain, I'm sorry !
     

    pkcode

    Member
    Latvia, Latvian
    Thanks!

    As I understood you use c'est un/une when you describe characteristics
    of a person, too.
     

    Jabote

    Senior Member
    French from France
    That's actually what I was about to write for an explanation in my previous post, until I realized that "il est étudiant" is also a characteristic, and it does not work... except that you could also say "c'est un étudiant en architecture".... so as I sai, I don't know what the exact rule is.... I have no doubt that someone else will come up with the correct explanation though, so let's just be patient, and of course once I see the explanation it will seem obvious to me....
     

    charlie2

    Senior Member
    Hi,
    I am just looking at the questions as given :
    "Elle est jeune femme tres sympatique' just won't work because if you have to use Elle est, you'll need une too. It leaves you with the only other possible option : C'est une.
    The same applies to the other similar questions in your exercise.
    As for professions (professeur, institutrice (I think this is what you mean, right?) and étudiant too), they don't take an article and it is always il est étudiant. The same goes with the nationality. (e.g. Il est chinois.)
    I am afraid this is not a very intellectual answer. ;)
    If I am wrong, the others will let us know soon enough. :D
     

    Gil

    Senior Member
    Français, Canada
    :thumbsup: Quand on a besoin de l'article "un", la question ne nous laisse pas le choix, il faut que ce soit "c'est un".
     

    bongbang

    Senior Member
    Thai
    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?)
     

    Agnès E.

    Senior Member
    France, French
    bongbang said:
    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.
    No, Olivier's examples were absolutely perfect and not interchangeable.

    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?)
    Right. :)

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

    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"...
     

    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 :)
     

    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 french.about.com site really is a must for learners of French, be it beg., intermediate or advanced level.
     

    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.
     

    vanjoseph

    Senior Member
    English,USA
    Quand utiliserais-je “c’est” ou “il est” juste comme “c’était” et “il était”? Merci pour votre aide.

    il est fabuleux...c'est fabuleux
     

    babyburns

    Senior Member
    French, lives in the UK
    Il est fabuleux would refer to a person (dead or alive)
    c'est fabuleux would be for anything else really
    eg.
    J'ai rencontré le chanteur de System of a Down: il est fabuleux!!!
    J'ai escaladé l'everest, c'était fabuleux!!!
     

    Agnès E.

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Bonjour ! :)

    Il est fabuleux = he is fabulous (or it is if the subject is a masculine object in French) i.e., we know what we are talking about.

    - Regarde ce joueur de foot écossais ! Il est fabuleux !



    C'est fabuleux refers to a situation, an event. It is indefinite.

    - Demain, on va voir le match de rugby France/Ecosse. C'est fabuleux !
     

    FrançoisXV

    Senior Member
    Français, France
    Something funny about: What time is it ?

    bon français: quelle heure est-il ?
    langage courant: il est quelle heure ? / quelle heure il est ?
    version savoyarde: quelle heure c'est ?
     

    mapping

    Senior Member
    France, French
    oui mais on peut aussi dire : il est fabuleux de penser que nous allons pouvoir assister au match France/Ecosse
    mais il est vrai que ce n'est pas très employé, un peu désuet peut-être.
    néanmoins dans ce cas il et c' peuvent être employés indifféremment.
     

    fanch

    Member
    France / French
    Un autre cas d'emploi des deux structures mérite d'être mentionné, par exemple "C'est vrai.", ou "Il est vrai."
    Le premier cas est d'usage courrant, l'autre structure est plutôt ampoulée, mais pas rare dans une conversation formelle. Exemple "Il est vrai que Nicolas S. présente un certain nombre de ressemblances avec Franco."
    (Les noms sont choisis au hasard ; cette phrase n'est qu'un exemple grammatical, en aucun cas son auteur n'a voulu la charger d'un quelconque contenu idéologique).
     

    NYCPrincesse

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Oui, j'avais appris que quand on ecrit un document formel il faut toujour ecrire "Il est" au lieu de "C'est". Est-ce que c'est toujours la regle?

    Pareil avec "ca" et "cela" --> c'est-a-dire que cela est plus formel.
     

    fanch

    Member
    France / French
    C'est est une forme contractée, donc effectivement moins formelle, même si elle est largement entrée dans les moeurs. Tout dépend de la tonalité souhaitée. Il n'y a à priori rien de choquant à l'utiliser à l'écrit.
     

    keziah

    Member
    English, England
    I'm confused, because il est and c'est both mean it is, but I'm not sure when you would use each one. Can anyone help explain?
     

    keziah

    Member
    English, England
    what about before the subjunctive? like, "il est necessaire qu'on soit pret a travailler ensemble". that was just an example of what we have been doing in school, it's a bit confusing. Does that not mean "it is" right there?
     

    frenchaudrey

    Senior Member
    French, France
    Well... in that case you should say "il est nécessaire" but regarding the use of "nécessaire" vs "important"... it's hard to tell without more context and I'd say it's up to you to make that decision, if you feel that the word "important" fits better here :)
     

    keziah

    Member
    English, England
    Ok. So it's just depending on the situation? I think that I wouldn't point at something and say "il est une table", but it would be "c'est une table", right?
    Thank you very much.
     

    FRENFR

    Senior Member
    English
    Yes, thats right keziah. But you'd say ELLE est une table because the object is feminine. C'est is quicker and more familer I suppose.
     

    pieanne

    Senior Member
    Belgium/French
    FRENFR said:
    Yes, thats right keziah. But you'd say ELLE est une table because the object is feminine. C'est is quicker and more familer I suppose.

    I'm sorry to disagree, but you'll never say "elle est une table"!
    It's either "c'est une table" or "ceci est une table", which comes back to the same...
    When you point to an object, you just ask "Qu'est-ce que c'est?". The answer is "c'est une table/un livre".
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    First of all there are sentences where il or c' refers to a person or object or some other identifiable noun, and then there are sentences were they just mean 'it', in an impersonal way, like 'it is necessary that...'.

    In the first case, where they refer to real things, use
    c'est + noun: c'est une table
    il est + adjective: elle est belle, votre table
    except for professions, etc:
    elle est comptable

    In the second, impersonal, case, you use
    il est if what the 'il' refers to follows: Il est important de savoir faire du thé
    c'est if what the 'c'' refers to precedes: Je sais faire du thé. C'est important.
    (Orally, though, you'll find that 'c'est' is used a lot even for complements that follow.)
     

    pieanne

    Senior Member
    Belgium/French
    You've put it very well, Aupick!

    Unless you refer to a female person, "elle est" is followed by an adjective.
    "Il est" can
    - be impersonal: il est tard, il est important de..., etc...
    - be followed by a function: il est professeur, il est banquier... This refers to the job of a (male) person
    - be followed by an adjective: il est beau (this may refer either to a man/boy or to an object (masculine: a Teeshirt, a PC, anything)
     

    Bastoune

    Senior Member
    French & English - Canada
    Though one can say, "Ah, c'est beau" when referring to an object one finds "beau." Kind of more informal, I think.

    And also, for emphasis on how "beau" you find it, you can say, "C'est beau, cette table." -- which is kind of informal. (Although I think "elle est belle, cette table" is better). Bear in mind that the word "table" is feminine but "ce" of "c'est" takes the masculine form of adjective.

    A bit of a tangent but just for your information!
     

    pieanne

    Senior Member
    Belgium/French
    Yes, in that case "c'est ..." refers to a whole set of things, and to the impression you get of the whole.
    When you say "C'est beau, cette table ... " normally the sentence is not finished, you'll add "... avec la lumière de la fenêtre et le chandelier, et la couleur de la nappe qui correspond si bien à celle des fruits sur l'assiette!"
     

    FrançoisXV

    Senior Member
    Français, France
    Sometimes, it's just a question of "sounds good"
    it's time : il est l'heure / c'est l'heure
    it's midnight: il est minuit. (not "c'est minuit" except maybe in alps, jura and switzerland)
    Sometimes a different meaning is understated
    saying il est tard means i'm tired, c'est tard means i'd prefer earlier
     

    hibouette

    Senior Member
    France and French
    Bonjour,
    Dure question!
    La plupart du temps, on utilise "c'est X" pour parler de "ça" qui "est X":
    C'est fini = ça est fini
     

    gnat

    Senior Member
    India - [hin]English
    je pense que "il est" est toujours utilisé cu commencement de la phrase : eg : il est super que tu viennes […]

    mais "c'est " est utilisé à la fin : eg " tu viens? c'est super!" […]
     
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    Mammouth

    Member
    France
    Dans un style écrit ou des discussions académiques ou encore des discours publics, on pourra dire "il est intéressant de noter que"; il est important de..." etc, en revanche dans le langage parlé c'est assez rare (sauf pour des expressions toutes faites comme "il est x heure"; "il est tard"...) On ne dira jamais il est super que tu viennes; cela sonne pédant... "C'est super que tu viennes" est très bien.
     

    adventureboy

    Member
    french - switzerland
    @ gnat: Je dirai qu'il est plus juste de dire: "c'est super que tu viennes" (et non: "il est super que..." )
    […]
     
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