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


Senior Member
Which is correct of the following, please :

je connais l'hôpital - il est près du stade
je connais l'hôpital - c'est près du stade

  • As far as I understand Il/Elle est is used when it is followed be an adjective describing a specific person or thing or when it is followed by a nationality, occupation or religion. However, I am confused as to which one of the following sentences is correct.

    (1) Le café, il est en face de l'école.
    (2) Le café, c'est en face de l'école.


    Senior Member
    Le café, c'est en face de l'école. Or you can avoid the problem by omitting a little something...
    Le café est en face de l'école.
    Though that can also change the idea behind the sentence.


    Senior Member

    I had worked out a rule to distinguish between "c'est" and "il est" for the same italian friends :

    You are about to choose between "il", "elle", and "ce".
    1) Does this pronoun refer to something that can be named?
    If not, then choose "ce".
    Example : "C'est la vie", "C'est comme ça".

    2) Otherwise :
    2 a) If what comes after "est" is an noun attribute, always use "c'est".
    (Voici Paul, c'est mon ami : (Mon ami) is a nominal group)
    This rule is very powerful. The cases given by Tesley (profession, etc.) are only a very small subset of the possibilities.
    2 b) If what comes after "est" is an adjective attribute, always use "il" or "elle".
    (voici ma bicyclette, elle est rouge)
    2 c) If what comes after "est" is not an attribute, always use "il" or "elle".
    (Où est le livre? Il est dans la cuisine).

    Exception to the rule 2 b: If "il" or "elle" refers to a (relatively) big place, you may use "c'est" instead. 5(La France, c'est grand).
    The bigger the place, the more recommended the substitution.
    ("J'ai vu ta chambre, c'est beau" (a room in not a very big place, you can also say : "J'a vu ta chambre, elle est belle".)

    Note about case 1) : This case will not occur very often if you want to translate the English "it is". In situations like in case 1, You will most often rather say "that is" in English, and the phrase "that is" always translates as "c'est", never "il est" or "elle est".

    N'hésitez pas à mettre cette règle à l'épreuve : Elle a largement besoin d'être améliorée.
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    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Where something has already been referred to specifically, would you use c'est or il est. As here:

    Étes-vous allée au magasin d'Abercrombie? C'est/il est le magasin favori de Vicky.

    Merci d'avance. :)


    New Member
    American English
    It's easier than all these explanations. For people, "il/elle est" is used before unmodified nouns denoting profession, religion, and nationality; c'est is used before nouns that have been modified. Il est avocat vs. c'est un avocat.

    For impersonal expressions, "il est" is technically correct, but in speech it is quite interchangeable.


    Senior Member
    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)
    Or, in other words if you are defining something, you will most likely use "c'est".
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    Senior Member
    Geostan's post (here) basically states use "il/elle" for things, and use "C'est" for abstract ideas.

    Combine this rule with the one given by Citrouillefr (here) and we probably account for most situations. The rest is just nit picky grammar.

    With most nouns use an article or some determinant.

    C’est un professeur.
    C’est mon livre

    However, not with proper nouns

    C’est Jacques

    Nor with adjectives and adverbs

    C’est nécessaire.
    C’est très important.
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    I am a first year French language student and am often confused about when and how to use the word 'que.'

    For an assignment I wrote a paper about an imaginary visit to the city of Dunkerque. I referred to the city with the pronoun 'elle' on the second use, saying I had been excited to visit the city, "...parce que elle est un port maritime modern avec beaucoup de choses à faire..." I had to change "que elle" to "qu'elle," which I understand; however, on a second similar usage I have a mistake I can't figure out.

    Continuing with the sentence I say Dunkerque is a modern port city with many things to do and many things to see, "...mais elle est une vieille ville avec beaucoup d'histoire à apprécier."

    My teacher said the I cannot say "elle est" in the second part of the sentence, that I have a grammar error, but I don't know what it is. I think I'm supposed to say, "mais qu'elle est une...," but if that's so, I'm don't understand why I should use "que" before "elle."

    1) What is the "elle est" error?
    2) If the error is to add "que" before "elle," please explain why.

    Any help would be much appreciated.

    Merci beaucoup!


    Senior Member
    English Canada
    Welcome to the forum, Ginchysweet.

    You should say: mais c'est une... Your sentences are incomplete so I cannot say for sure, but you probably don't need que unless it is completing a verb.

    When you have two things referring to the same entity, use c'est to introduce the second one if it is a modified noun, even if it's only modified by an article such as une.

    So you have un port maritime moderne...., mais c'est une ville.... Both port and ville refer to the same thing and the second one is modified.

    I hope this helps. The use of Il/Elle est and C'est can be tricky.


    Senior Member
    To say "it is <predicate>", you must use "c'est" if your predicate is a noun or a nominal group, and "il est" or "elle est" if your predicate is an adjective.

    "...parce qu'elle est un port maritime modern avec beaucoup de choses à faire..." is wrong too.
    It should be "parce que c'est un port maritime..." for the same reasons.


    Senior Member
    You should use il est (or il était, il sera, etc)
    1- when presenting an idea and using and adjective + de
    Il est normal d'avoir cinq semaines de congés payés.
    2- when presenting an idea and using and adjective + que
    Il est certain qu'on celebrera le 14 juillet.
    3- when referring to the time of the day
    Il est neuf heures moins le quart.
    C'est is sometimes used in place of il est in 1 and 2 above in informal situations.
    You should use c'est (or c'était, ce sera, etc)
    1- when a noun or pronoun follows:
    on pense que ce sera un bon réveillon.
    2- when referring to an idea already mentioned:
    il y a eu beaucoup d'accidents, mais c'était inévitable.
    3- when wishing to put emphasis on a particular part of the sentence:
    c'est demain que la campagne publicitaire va commencer.

    Ceci est l'explication sur mon livre, mais en parlant avec le Français j'ai noté qu'ils utilisaient toujours "c'est", et "il est" seulement pour parler de les heures. Est-ce que vous pourriez m'aider? Merci beaucoup!


    Senior Member
    I believe "c'est" is used to specify something, and after that you would use "il/elle est" to refer to the person/thing already specified.

    Ex: C'est Pierre. Il est français. Il est grand aussi.
    Ex: C'est une bague. Elle est jolie.


    New Member
    English - Canadian

    Continuing on with FSI French lesson 7, and I'm doing practice drill A-14 (c'est vs. il est).

    It's hard for me to understand why some of them use il est, and some use c'est. I've seen some explanations for this and have looked it up in grammar books, but I'm still not sure. Here is an example:

    Allez-vous acheter l'auto de Roger? Non, elle est trop chere.

    Avez-vous une bonne? Non, c'est trop cher.

    As far as I can tell, if it is referencing something specific, such as Roger's car (rather than simply a car), then you would use il/elle est. Another example with elle est is cette chemise, which again would be specific to that shirt. If it is something more general (a maid, not a specific maid), then it is c'est. Another example with c'est is un taxi. If it was ce taxi, then my understanding would be to use il est.

    Is that correct?



    Senior Member
    French & English - Canada
    In the first case, the object (car) is too expensive.

    In the second case, having a made (une bonne) is too expensive -- not that the maid herself is "expensive."

    Otherwise one uses "il/elle est" with an adjective and "C'est" with "un/une"

    C'est un animal. Il est grand. C'est un grand animal.


    Il est + adjective + de = a general activity is of a certain quality. / C'est + adj. + à = qualities of a specific thing

    Il est difficile de lire = It's difficult to read (reading is difficult/he act of reading is difficult).

    C'est difficile à lire = It's difficult to read (the text is difficult, it is full of vocabulary that is very advanced).
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    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    English - USA
    C'est describes the general situation (C'est trop cher, une bonne - Having a maid is too expensive)

    Il/Elle est describes a specific example Elle est trop chère, cette bonne - This maid is too expensive

    PS: "FSI French" was written in the 1960s. The grammar isn't too different today, but the cultural contexts in it are very outdated (e.g., the cost of maids).
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    Senior Member
    English - England
    In French I was taught that to describe what job a person had one would say/write "Il est avocat." Wheras in English it is said that "He is a lawyer." If you (one) were (was) describing someone as being un fasciste or un crétin would you (one) also not use the indefinite article?
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    Senior Member
    English -Ireland
    What is the difference in meaning between "C'est" and "Il est" in the exercise drill below from Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Revised French Course. As is usual for FSI drills there is no context to help.

    My first though was that a distinction was being made between the package (Ce)and its contents (il ya) but examples 5 and 6 seem to rule this out. I would expect only the package to be the thing tied up and wrapped up.

    1. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. C’est lourd
    2. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. Il est lourd
    3. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. Ca sent bon
    4. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. C’est très léger
    5. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. Il est bien ficelé
    6. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. C’est très bien emballé
    7. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. C’est assuré
    8. Je me demande ce qu’il y a dans ce paquet. Il est mouillé

    Many Thanks


    Senior Member
    Français / France - Brittany
    "Ce" is used to name something undefined. (C'est = Ce est)
    "Il" is used to name a defined object / an object we know.

    So in sentence 5, "Il est bien ficelé". We are talking about the "paquet" mentioned in the sentence before.
    In sentence 6, we are not talking about the "paquet" but about the way it is packed. What is not mentioned in the sentence before.

    Hope I am clear.
    French is my mother tongue, but it is difficult to explain it as it is more habits than rules that I am following.


    New Member
    American English (southern)
    "Mon père est dans la militaire. Il est un pilote."

    Est-ce que je dois avoir l'article "un" pour distinguer qu'il n'est pas de pilote commercial?


    Senior Member
    Il/Elle est + noun isn't very common :)

    Either Il est pilote (adjective) or C'est un pilote (c'est + noun). If you just want to say that his job is pilot then I'd say Il est pilote.

    You could use C'est un pilote with something else, like C'est un pilote de l'armée américaine or C'est un pilote qui fait bien son travail, etc...

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    C'est un pilote seul me semble assez étrange ; je ne l'utiliserais que s'il y a un qualificatif supplémentaire, par exemple C'est un pilote chevronné. Sinon je dirais toujours Il est pilote.
    I am in the process of writing an essay, and wish to clarify a situation but do not know whether to use c'est or il est in my sentence.

    I appreciate it rather too long as a sentence, but any help would be appreciated

    Au niveau déterministe, on peut affirmer que *c'est*(?) la disparité entre la tempérament lymphatique de Camille et celui des nerfs de Thérèse en plus de la vie monotone et étriquée qu’ils mènent comme mari et femme dans un milieu étouffant et maladif qui conduit Thérèse à se jeter dans les bras du sanguin, Laurent.


    Senior Member
    C'est, yes :)

    Il est isn't used to talk about a concept (it's used either for a man/boy or a masculine object, or a movie, etc).

    However, it's still not used with a determiner + a noun (Il est un homme :cross:)


    Senior Member
    France, Français
    En fait, on pourrait le dire (il est un homme...), mais dans un contexte et un sens très différents.
    Il est peut en effet être une manière littéraire de dire il y a :
    S'il est un homme que le théâtre devrait respecter entre tous, c'est Molière (Théophile Gautier)
    Il est une femme que vous haïssez, moi je l'aime ; vous lui jetez vos mépris, moi je l'entoure de mes adorations
    Mais ce sens (il y a) ne correspond pas à votre exemple !


    In a sentence below, is it interchangeable?

    Il était très difficile de dormir la nuit dernière.
    C'était très difficile de dormir la nuit dernière.

    If so, is it just a question of being formal (il est) and informal (c'est)?

    Thank you for your help.


    Senior Member
    Hi Kumi!

    Well, this is a tricky one (for a non-native speaker)!
    Each of your sentences is acceptable.
    Some grammars will sometimes claim that "il est" is the only form to use in these constructions, but "c'est" is widely used in spoken French, and is often also found in the written language.

    le P


    Senior Member
    So, for another case, if it is
    Tu connais Sandrine?
    do we answer witn Non, c'est une nouvelle étudiante
    or do we answer with
    non, elle est nouvelle étudiante.

    Since Sandrine is a concrete spacific person, I would go with the latter, but some friends of mine chose the former.

    Please help.

    Ps: I was referred to this thread by a mod and I dont know if I can post the question here.

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    It should definitely be the former because of the adjective (nouvelle), even though the person is well-known from context:

    C'est une nouvelle étudiante.


    Elle est étudiante.


    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I know that this is several years later, but...I didn't see the rules addressed in any of the il est vs. c'est threads. The grammatical rule is :

    Il est / Elle est + adjective


    C'est + direct or indirect object...

    Having said that, can you say, " Elle est Suzanne. Il est M. Du Pont. Je suis Christina...etc." ? I suspect that it's acceptable in spoken French, but much of the time spoken languages ignore rules.

    Merci d'avance!


    Senior Member

    I'm not sure there's a rule for names, but basically I think you can consider names as nouns, even though they don't require an article. So:

    C'est un pilote.
    C'est une Canadienne.
    C'est Christina.

    This is pretty much as in English: you would say "Hi, I'm Christina and this is Matthew", not He's Matthew, wouldn't you?


    Senior Member
    English, Aust.
    Further to the post by Tresley, I would like to confirm if the following is true:

    There are two ways to write "He’s a doctor": "Il est médecin" and "C’est un médecin"
    likewise: "He is a student" would be either "Il est étudiant" or "C'est un étudiant".

    If we make the sentence "He is the new student", this would change to become "C'est la nouvelle étudiant" n'est-ce pas?

    Merci d'avance.


    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm interested to know if anyone can explain 'ce' used in a pejorative sense e.g. "c'est un enfant/ce n'est qu'un enfant" - he's a mere child, behaving like an infant. It's quite disconcerting to hear "c'est une bonne mère" for she's a good mother.


    Dépêche Mod (AL mod)
    French (lower Normandy)
    Even if we use "ce", it carries no pejorative meaning in itself, as examplified below.
    "C'est un Français"
    "C'est un étudiant brillant"

    The pejorative sense is only carried by what followed (eg: "C'est un idiot")


    Senior Member
    English (England)
    This is pretty much as in English: you would say "Hi, I'm Christina and this is Matthew", not He's Matthew, wouldn't you?
    You can say "he's Matthew", it's probably not as common as "this is Matthew", though.

    This gets me wondering if the French "C'est Mathieu" is in some way short for something like "Son nom, c'est Mathieu" which would make the construction a bit easier to understand.


    Senior Member
    Bonjour à tous!

    Je voudrais prolonger un peu ce sujet intéressant. Les phrases ci-dessous, sont-elles toutes correctes?

    Il est directeur.

    Il est le directeur de notre école.

    C'est un bon directeur.

    Marc est un bon directeur. (on pourrait dire "il est un bon directeur"?)

    Je vous présente Marc. C'est notre directeur. (je ne sais pas si je peux dire "il est notre directeur")

    Merci d'avance pour vos réponses!


    Senior Member

    To put it in a nutshell, we usually say Il est + adjective/profession (Il est gentil, il est directeur, il est peintre, etc.) and C'est + noun (C'est un pilote, c'est un bon directeur, c'est notre directeur, etc.) Thus, I'd say Il est directeur / C'est le directeur de notre école / C'est un bon directeur / C'est notre directeur. Note that:

    - It's perfectly possible to use c'est with an adjective instead of a noun (it's actually very common) : C'est génial, c'est cool, c'est bête, etc. But here, you're not talking about a person or a clearly defined object, but rather about a global situation, or an abstract behavior, as in C'est gentil de ta part ("That's kind of you").

    - You might come across Il est + noun (Il est mon père, elle est ma mère, etc.) but that sounds off to me. It sounds very formal at best, and completely stilted at worse.

    It's been discussed before in these threads.
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    Senior Member
    Est-ce que je peux dire "vous êtes un bon professeur"?:)

    Est-ce que la règle "c'est + adjectif / pronom + profession" ne s'applique qu'aux pronoms "il, elle"?

    Par exemple: C'est un bon prof (correct) - Il est un bon prof (pas correct)...
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    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Oui, vous pouvez tout à fait dire Vous êtes un bon professeur ou encore Je suis un bon professeur. Ce n'est en effet qu'à la troisième personne que l'on dit C'est un bon professeur / Ce sont de bons professeurs.



    I'm familiar with the informal forms of interrogation such as "C'est quoi, un ordinateur?", "C'est qui, ce mec?", and "C'est quand, ton anniversaire?". However, a member has informed me that while "C'est quand, ton anniversaire?" and "Elle est où, ta voiture?" were acceptable, "Il est quand, ton anniversaire?" and "C'est où, ta voiture?" were incorrect. I was wondering why and whether there is a rule governing the usage of demonstrative and personal pronouns in these informal questions.

    Merci d'avance.