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

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.


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!


Q&A

Elaine

Kwiziq community member

22 August 2018

1 reply

il habite où

Chris

Kwiziq community member

23 August 2018

23/08/18

That depends about whom you are talking.

David

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

6 replies

Il est or c'est in this case

Can you tell me which is the correct translation in this case and why?

I find it hard to decide which category it comes in.

It is logical that you have gone first.

1. Il est logique que vous soyez passée la première

2. C'est logique que vous soyez passée la première

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

Try this: https://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/french-grammar/cest-versus-il-elle-est


-- Chris.

David

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

I have read that, and the material on Kwiziq. I find myself still confused in this particular case.


Which one would you go for? And what would your thought process be?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

I would say "Il est logique...". I have a hard time, however, justifying it or reasoning it out. It does, however, follow the rule Il+adjective versus C'est+noun noted in the link I sent you.


From your questions I get the impression that you are approaching learning French very methodically (which is good) and very rule-oriented (which is sometimes not so good). Have you tried just to assimilate a novel idea rather than dissecting it? It helped me a lot to read as much as I can and not stop at every phrase I wasn't entirely sure about. Just make a mental note and go on. In French there are probably more exceptions to any given rule than in any other language anyway :)


Greetings, -- Chris.

David

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

It is true that I can read and not bother about c'est vs il est, and if I finally get to write or speak to someone in French they can probably forgive my occasionally getting my grammar wrong. But just for now I have to answer these questions in Kwiziq and Duolingo and the standard is 100% perfection and to get there I need to learn and rember the logic.


I have achieved it too, with 100% in all 6 levels in Kwiziq and a golden tree in Duolingo, but then I get to things like the Kwiziq writing challenges and realize how little I know compared to even a 5 year old French child.


I suppose that if I could immerse myself in the culture these things would eventually come intuitively but since that cannot happen I have to make do with what I can achieve online.


---


I agree that the FrenchToday page, which simplifies everything to il est+adjective or c'est+noun, would give us "Il est logique...".


But the Kwiziq lesson we are discussing here says:


Case 1: C'est + noun


Case 2a: C'est + anything else, where we are making a general, unspecific statement or opinion about prementioned things.


Case 2b: Il est + anything else, where we are making a statement or opinion related to specific prementioned things.


For It is logical that you have gone first we do not have a noun so case 1 is out.


At first it sounds like we have case 2b - so Il est logique - since we have a specific thing, i.e. "you have gone first".


But then I look at one of the examples for case 2a and it says "It's really beautiful here" = "C'est vraiment magnifique ici" and I think it sounds just like out "It is logical..." statement, even though it is, to me, talking abut a specifc thing, namely "here".


But in both cases the "specificity of the thing" is kind of vague.


Unfortunately the examples for case 2b do not help because they are so simple. Each consists of two consecutive sentences. One that asks a question about a thing and another that makes a statement about it. The "It is logical that..." statement is unlike those.


So I lean toward case 2a and "C'est logique...".

Alan

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

This Kwiziq lesson is about giving opinions on things, I don't think it's relevant to your example. (The FrenchToday lesson doesn't cover this kind of sentence either in the main lesson, although it is mentioned in the comments below.) A closer match on Kwiziq would be this lesson:


https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/grammar/il-est-important-que-subjonctif-it-is-important-that


You can see that they use "il est" exclusively here, which I think is appropriate for written French. Informally, I believe you could use "c'est" instead. 

David

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

Thank you for that. I think you have provided the answer I was looking for:


When using expressions for general opinion such as "It is important for <someone> to <do something>", in French you will use the structure Il est <adjective> que followed by Le Subjonctif.


Where opinon words include: important, nécessaire, inutile, esssentiel, logique, ...

Joan

Kwiziq community member

18 July 2018

5 replies

Why the answer to "Qui est cette fille?" is " C'est Marie" instead of "Elle est Marie"?

Since 'cette fille' is referring to a specified girl, as explained in case 2b, shouldn't we use 'elle est'?

Thanks

Chris

Kwiziq community member

19 July 2018

19/07/18

Hi Joan,


C'est Marie. -- It is Marie.
Elle est Marie. -- She is Marie.


Qui est cette fille? C'est Marie. -- Who is that girl? It's Marie.


I don't know how to motivate it any better. Sometimes you just have to take things the way they are. Language isn't math and many rules are, at best, guidelines.


In particular in French I sometimes feel that rules are only there to justify the countless exceptions. ;)


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Alan

Kwiziq community member

19 July 2018

19/07/18

This question seems to have been asked a lot recently, so perhaps the lesson is not clear enough.


Case 1 is "c'est" + noun / name.  You must always use "c'est" here.


Case 2 is "c'est" or "il/elle est" + adjective. This depends on whether it's specific or non-specific.


So your example is covered by case 1 and you have to use "c'est". I disagree with Chris here, I don't think "Elle est Marie" is correct.


You might find this  link useful:


https://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/french-grammar/cest-versus-il-elle-est


Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

20 July 2018

20/07/18

Hi all, 


"Elle est Marie" is incorrect.


I don't think the lesson is unclear ( I have checked others to see how this particular point was explained).


In my experience, this is very instinctive and this common error just sounds wrong in French. It is a mistake that even young French children won't make because it is instinctive.


I think the problem comes from the difference between what is said in English and in French.


C' = it or this 


so "C'est ma mère" will be, "This is my mother" or "She is my mother" in English , in French we hear, "This is my mother" or "It's my mother".


C'est mon frère = He's my brother (never, Il est mon frère)


Hard to explain.....

Alan

Kwiziq community member

21 July 2018

21/07/18

Hi Cécile,


I think it would be worth adding to the lesson an explicit statement that phrases like "il est mon frère" are wrong. (Not everyone will read the Q&A.)


"Il est mon frère" is so natural for an English speaker that it really has to be emphasised that it is incorrect, otherwise we just assume that both "c'est mon frère" and "il est mon frère" are correct, and then we probably make the further error that one means "it's my brother" and the other means "he's my brother".

Bill

Kwiziq community member

30 August 2018

30/08/18

Forgive me if i'm over-simplifying but it seems obvious and instintive (instinctual? i dont know and i'm a native english speaker lol) to say "C'est Marie" because that's what one would also respond in natural English.  One wouldn't respond "She is Marie", but "It's Marie".  Of course, one could say the former, but that would probably be perceived as a non-native English-speaking response.  It's far more natural to say and hear "It's Marie" vs the other.

Arndís

Kwiziq community member

17 July 2018

1 reply

Any Sylvie?

Another problem I have here is with the explanations in the lesson. It says that when talking about SOMETHING SPECIFIC, you should use elle/il. But then there's this example: Qui est Sylvie ? - C'est ma sœur. 

I would think that here we are talking about a very specific Sylvie, and not just some Sylvie. Then why do we say c'est instead of elle? 

Alan

Kwiziq community member

17 July 2018

17/07/18

Hi Arndis, if you look again at the lesson you'll see it's divided into 2 parts.


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



In this case you always use "c'est". This includes your example: "Qui est Sylvie ? - C'est ma sœur. "
2. Cases expressing opinions or simple statements (adjectives) about prementioned thingsThe rule about specific/unspecific comes here, but this is not relevant to your example.

Arndís

Kwiziq community member

12 July 2018

5 replies

She's a good dancer - c'est?

I understand that things have a male/female gender in French, unlike English where things generally are neutral, but is it really so that you can use "c'est" about a person? 

Chris

Kwiziq community member

16 July 2018

16/07/18

Hi Arndís,


I do believe that the English translations are misleading. 


"C'est la fille de Marie." Should be translated as "It's Martha's daughter." And not "She is Martha's daughter." Which would, in fact, be "Elle est la fille de Martha."


-- Chris. 

Alan

Kwiziq community member

16 July 2018

16/07/18

I'm not sure this is right. According to the first part of this lesson:


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.


So strictly speaking you shouldn't say "Elle est la fille de Martha."


Therefore "C'est" will be used in many cases where you would say "he/she is" in English and should be translated as "he/she".

Arndís

Kwiziq community member

17 July 2018

17/07/18

That's not what I'm confused about. That sounds perfectly logical to me. 


I asked the question after doing a writing excercise where the correct translation of "she's a good dancer" started with c'est (I can't remember the exact sentence, but probably it was "c'est une bonne danseuse") and that makes no sense to me. Is that correct French? 

Alan

Kwiziq community member

17 July 2018

17/07/18

Yes, it's correct French. I'm not sure what you're confused about, and what you think is logical. How do you think "she's a good dancer" should be translated into French, given that it can't be "elle est une bonne danseuse"?

Arndís

Kwiziq community member

17 July 2018

17/07/18

"Elle est une bonne danseuse" sounds logical to me, and strange to talk about people as "it". Thank you for the confirmation, I'll just have to get used to it, then, haha! :) 

David

Kwiziq community member

8 July 2018

0 replies

"Tu aimes le violet? Oui, c'est tres joli."

"Tu aimes le violet? Oui, c'est tres joli." I said "Oui, il est..." and was marked wrong. Why is that? The object referred to is specific - "le violet". This is not a general statement.

David

Kwiziq community member

8 July 2018

0 replies

Tu aimes le violet? Oui, c'est tres joli.

Ann

Kwiziq community member

23 June 2018

0 replies

In the lesson we are to translate "It was my favorite word for years" The word referred to was baguette. Since it is a specific word, why is the trans

lation using C'est?

Dragana

Kwiziq community member

28 May 2018

3 replies

Tu aimes le violet? Oui, c'est tres jolie!

If this asking if you like a specific colour. Why is it not "Oui, il est tres jolie!

Another referred to ma coupe - it was Elle est tres ....., WHY elle here?

Thanks

Chris

Kwiziq community member

28 May 2018

28/05/18

I guess it is because it is anything in violet, not a specific color. You would probably say:


Tu aimes la couleur de mon pull? -- Oui, il te va bien.


Concerning the haircut: it is a specific haircut, namely yours and not any haircut in general. Hence "elle".


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Chris

Kwiziq community member

29 May 2018

29/05/18

Or, Oui, elle te va bien. If you want to refer to the specific color of the sweater. 


-- Chris. 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

29 May 2018

29/05/18

Hi Dragana,


Yes 'violet' refers to the colour here :


J'adore le violet , c'est très joli. (I love purple it's a beautiful colour)


You would use 'c'est' + adjective in the masculine form for general comments.


Le bleu, c'est beau mais froid comme couleur dans une chambre.


( Blue is a beautiful colour but cold for a bedroom.)


J'ai peint ma salle à manger en jaune, c'est très gai. (I painted my dining room in yellow , it's very cheerful)


I agree with Chris on the haircut it is most specific here.


Hope this helps!


 

CrystalMaiden

Kwiziq community member

5 April 2018

2 replies

Miam, c'est délicieux! Why not il est?

Miam, c'est délicieux! Why not il est? It's referring to something specific (the delicious specific thing being eaten), I assume, since we don't see the sentences before it.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

5 April 2018

5/04/18

I guess you need to know the context in which this sentence was said. If being asked, "Tu aimes la soupe?", one would likely reply by saying, "Oui, elle est délicieuse." referring specifically to the soup.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

CrystalMaiden

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2018

8/04/18

Okay, thank you.

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