C'est vs il/elle est: Saying it is

In French, to give opinions or state facts about things, it is can be expressed in two ways: either c'est or il est/elle est. 

It can be tricky to know when to use one or the other, so here's the way to do it!

1. c'est  in sentences it/he/she is + a/the/my... + [noun/name]

C'est une jolie robe.
It is a pretty dress.

Qu'est-ce que tu en penses ? - C'est un livre intéressant.
What do you think about it? - It's an interesting book.

C'est le fils de Martha.
He's Martha's son.

Qui est Sylvie ? - C'est ma sœur.
Who's Sylvie? - She's my sister.

C'est la robe que je porte au travail.
That's the dress that I wear at work.

If it/he/she is is followed by un/une/le/la... (any form of article / determinant) - it is a beautiful dress / she is a nice person - then you will use c'est.


2. Cases expressing opinions or simple statements (adjectives) about prementioned things, look at these rules:

a - c'est  for general, unspecific statements and opinions

Tu étudies la science ? - Oui, c'est passionnant !
Do you study science? - Yes, it's thrilling!

C'est vraiment magnifique ici!
It's really beautiful here!

Miam, c'est délicieux!
Yummy, it's delicious!

 

In those cases, we're expressing opinions or statements that refer to the thing generally: we're saying science in general is thrilling, or that something unspecified is great or delicious.
Therefore, here we use c'est to say it is.

 

b - il est/elle est  for statements and opinions related to specific things

Tu aimes mon pull ? -Oui, il est très beau.
Do you like my sweater? -Yes, it's very nice.

Où est ta tasse ? - Elle est sur la table.
Where is your cup? -It is on the table.

Et le lit? - Il est encore dans le camion.
What about the bed? - It's still in the truck.

In those cases, the opinions expressed relate to specific items, we know precisely what we're talking about, whether it be my jumper (not jumpers in general), your plate or that specific bed.
Therefore, here we use il est or elle est, depending on the gender of the thing it refers to (remember that things have genders too in French!).

ATTENTION: 
When using il/elle, you have to make adjectives agree accordingly, whereas you always use the masculine with c'est. 
(See Standalone adjectives after c'est are always masculine)

 

Ambiguous cases in French

Look at these two examples talking about soup:

Tu aimes la soupe? - Oui, elle est délicieuse!
Do you like the soup? - Yes, it's delicious!


Tu aimes la soupe? - Oui, c'est réconfortant!
Do you like soup? -Yes, it's comforting!

Note that in French, both statements look identical (Tu aimes la soupe ?) when in English they mean two distinct things: 
Do you like soup? is a question on soup in general, whereas
Do you like the soup? is asking about a specific soup, i.e. the one they're eating at that moment.

The tricky fact is that in French, you use the definite article le, la, l' for general statements as well as specific the.
See Using le, la, l', les before nouns when generalising (definite articles).

So here you need to know the context to use either c'est (soup in general) or il est/elle est (the specific soup). 

 

See also C'est, ce sont = this is, these are (demonstrative pronouns)

See how to use c'est with adjectives : C'est = It is

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Tu aimes mon pull ? -Oui, il est très beau.
Do you like my sweater? -Yes, it's very nice.


Et le lit? - Il est encore dans le camion.
What about the bed? - It's still in the truck.


C'est une jolie robe.
It is a pretty dress.


Tu étudies la science ? - Oui, c'est passionnant !
Do you study science? - Yes, it's thrilling!


C'est la robe que je porte au travail.
That's the dress that I wear at work.


Miam, c'est délicieux!
Yummy, it's delicious!


Qu'est-ce que tu en penses ? - C'est un livre intéressant.
What do you think about it? - It's an interesting book.


Tu aimes la soupe? - Oui, c'est réconfortant!
Do you like soup? -Yes, it's comforting!


Qui est Sylvie ? - C'est ma sœur.
Who's Sylvie? - She's my sister.


C'est une bonne nageuse.
She is a good swimmer.


Tu aimes la soupe? - Oui, elle est délicieuse!
Do you like the soup? - Yes, it's delicious!


Où est ta tasse ? - Elle est sur la table.
Where is your cup? -It is on the table.



C'est vraiment magnifique ici!
It's really beautiful here!


C'est le fils de Martha.
He's Martha's son.


Q&A

Cs

Kwiziq community member

21 May 2019

0 replies

Merci Beaucoup

I just wanted to say that the video in this lesson was super helpful. I struggled so much with this concept and now I get it right all the time. So, thank you!

Mtete

Kwiziq community member

2 April 2019

2 replies

On we or Un one

What I want to say is when we are ask 

One mustn't talk back to one's parents.

On ne doit pas répondre à ses parents.  

Your answer is  " On " that is what I don't understand to me the question does not say We mustn't talk back to one's parents. so the answer  should be "Un" if not why ?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

2 April 2019

2/04/19

On can be both: "we" (mostly used in familiar contexts) and "one" (impersonal we).

"Un" doesn't work in French. You can't translate the English "one" literally.

Todd

Kwiziq community member

2 April 2019

2/04/19

To add to Chris's answer:

Un means one when referring to number or quantity. e.g. Un de mes parents n'aime pas les pommes. (One of my parents doesn't like apples.); Je n'ai qu'un stylo. (I only have one pen.)

On can mean one in the sense that you're using it; it can also mean the rather informal we (in place of nous), as well they or you used in general, and not referring to specific people or groups.

Hope this is helpful.

Mtete

Kwiziq community member

2 April 2019

1 reply

I don't understand the answer to this question is On why the question is One mustn't not We mustn't talk back to one's parents . So why On

________ ne doit pas répondre à ses parents.One mustn't talk back to one's parents.OnUnNousIlEXPLAIN THISReport issue

Chris

Kwiziq community member

2 April 2019

2/04/19

answered.

Van

Kwiziq community member

30 March 2019

1 reply

Is this a good summary?

Been looking at this for a long time. Conclusion is if you want to write a sentence using a/the/my , Or making a general opinion then use c'est. Otherwise use I'll/Elle est to make a specific opinion towards something/someone if there is no a/the/my in the sentence? 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

31 March 2019

31/03/19

Hi Van,

This is pretty accurate but I prefer working with their French equivalents.

There are others and you can add, Monsieur, Madame and names to the list.

I am working on an lesson update which I hope will clarify the situation...

As an example you can say -

Elle est bonne nageuse 

C'est une bonne nageuse 

but you cannot say:

Elle est une bonne nageuse !

Claudia

Kwiziq community member

20 February 2019

0 replies

salut

Has anybody seen the subtítles in the video ?

Sagar

Kwiziq community member

14 February 2019

3 replies

Why is this wrong?

On the quiz, I missed this question:

Tu aimes le violet ? Oui, ________ est très joli!

I answered with 'il', because it fits the criteria that we are not talking about something general, but something specifically referred to previously: the color violet. The answer was actually "c'".

Can you explain why?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 February 2019

15/02/19

I guess if the context were about a specific violet, like the third one from the left in a bunch of them, then you would il. The question, as I understand it, is asking about violets in general. Sometimes in French you use the singular in this case, where in English you would use plural.

Sagar

Kwiziq community member

15 February 2019

15/02/19

Hi Chris.

Thanks for your reply. I thought violet in this context meant "purple". Or does it, in fact, refer to the flower ?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 February 2019

15/02/19

You are probably right. Could refer to the color, too. In that case it is the same kind of reasoning. The general color asks for ce instead of il.

Mamadou

Kwiziq community member

4 February 2019

1 reply

Who's your teacher?

I want to know all possible answers for that question

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

26 March 2019

26/03/19

Hi Mamadou,

It would be -

C'est M. Untel It is Mr. So-and-So

C'est Mme Untel = It is Mrs So-and- So

Hope this helps!

Neil

Kwiziq community member

3 February 2019

1 reply

Why is “it’s a pretty dress” not considered to be referencing a specific thing and hence Elle est une jolie robe

Neil

Kwiziq community member

3 February 2019

3/02/19

Seems to me a ‘that’ rule works.  If ‘that’ works with the English translation then use ‘’C’est” otherwise use “il/elle” etc

Roy

Kwiziq community member

9 January 2019

0 replies

One option given as an answer is "Each is all red". Is this where we would use "on"? On est tout rouge.

Paola

Kwiziq community member

11 December 2018

1 reply

Can I say Il est le fils de Martha instead of C'est le fils de Martha?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

12 December 2018

12/12/18

I've only ever heard C'est le fils de Martha. But isn't that very example given in the lesson?
Let me take a look at that...