Guide to How To Use C’est vs Il Est In French

In French, there are two ways of saying he is or she is: “C’est” and “il est” or “elle est”. Mastering c’est vs. il est can be very challenging, even for advanced students.

C'est vs. Il est - complete guide

C’est vs il est: underlying rule

The underlying rule is that articles trigger the usage of “c’est”. “Ce sont” means “there are” and is the plural of “c’est”. Another rule of them is to use “il est” or “elle est” plus adjective. Here are some examples.

  • C’est un garçon. It’s a boy.
  • Il est sympathique. He is nice.
  • C’est un garçon sympathique. He’s a nice boy.
  • C’est une fille. It’s a girl.
  • Elle est intelligente. She is smart.
  • C’est une fille intelligente. She’s a smart girl.
  • Ce sont des enfants sages. They are well behaved children.

There are countless situations where you must pick either c’est or il est/elle est but the governing rule is always articles trigger the usage of c’est.

C'est vs il est - example

When to use “il est” and “elle est”

1. Il est/elle est + adjective (person or something tangible)

Use “il est” and “elle est” plus adjective.

  • Il est beau. He’s handsome.
  • Elle est belle. She’s beautiful.
  • Il est gentil. He’s nice.
  • Elle est généreuse. She’s generous.

When describing a thing or object that’s tangible, call it il or elle and follow it be être (to be) + adjective.

  • La voiture est rapide -> Elle est rapide. The car is fast -> It’s fast.
  • La pizza est chaude -> Elle est chaude. The pizza is hot. -> It’s hot.
  • Le gâteau est délicieux. Il est délicieux. The cake is delicious. -> It’s delicious. 

2. Il est, elle est + profession or religion

“Il est” and “elle est” are also used for professions and religions.

  • Il est professeur. He’s a teacher/professor.
  • Elle est avocate. She’s lawyer.
  • Il est médecin. He’s a doctor.
  • Il est juif. He is Jewish.
  • Elle est musulmane. She is Muslim.

When including an adjective with a profession, “c’est” is used. For example, “C’est un bon densite” (he’s a good dentiste”. We explain this in more detail below.

3. Telling time

Use “il est + hours” to expression time. This page covers how to tell time in French.

  • Il est trois heures. It’s three o’clock.
  • Il est midi. It’s noon.
  • Il est dix-huit heures. It’s 6.00pm.

4. Il est + adjective + de + infinitive

The following examples cover the structure: “It is + adjective + to verb”, or “il est + adjective + infinitive”.

  • Il est important d’être à l’heure. It’s important to be on time.
  • Il est dangereux de marcher dans la rue. It’s dangerous to walk in the street.
  • Il est interdit de fumer dans le bâtiment. It’s forbidden to smoke in the building.

5. Il est + adjective + que + subject + subjunctive

The following example sentences uses the structure: “Il est + adjective + that + person + verb”. These are called impersonal expressions which require the subjunctive mood.

  • Il est dommage que tu ne sois pas avec nous ce matin. It’s a shame that you’re not with us this morning.
  • Il est triste qu’elle ne vienne pas avec nous. It’s sad that she’s not coming with us.
Example of c'est

When to use c’est

“C’est” in French has many uses. The plural or “c’est” is “ce sont”. C’est can translate to “he is”, “she is” and “it is. “Ce sont” translates to “they are”. While the underlying rule is that articles trigger c’est, there are other situations where c’est is used.

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1. C’est + person’s name

When expressing, “it’s + person’s name!”, use “c’est”.

  • C’est Pierre! It’s Pierre!
  • C’est Marie! It’s Marie!

2. C’est + person when there’s an article

In the classic sentence for when a baby is born, “c’est” is used. “C’est une fille!” means “it’s a girl!”.

  • C’est un homme. It’s a man.
  • C’est une femme. It’s a woman.
  • C’est un garçon. It’s a boy.
  • C’est une fille. It’s a girl.

3. C’est + definite article (le, la, les)

In the following sentence, “c’est” is used because le, la and les are articles, which trigger the usage of c’est.

  • C’est la maison. It’s the house.
  • C’est la voiture. It’s the car.
  • C’est le livre. It’s the book.
  • Ce sont les fleurs. They’re the flowers.

4. C’est + indefinite article (un, une, des)

In these sentences, “c’est” is also used because un, une and des (the indefinite article) is used. This page covers both the definite and indefinite articles in French.

  • C’est une voiture. It’s a car.
  • C’est une chaise. It’s a chair.
  • C’est un livre. It’s a book.
  • Ce sont des fleurs. They’re flowers.

That said, to express “it’s fast” (for the car), you’d say “Elle est rapide”. This is the “il/elle est + adjective” rule (see above).

5. C’est + possessive adjective

Possessive adjectives (my, your, his, her, etc.) in the context of “il est vs. c’est” are treated like articles in French.

  • C’est ma voiture. It’s my car.
  • C’est ma chaise. It’s my chair.
  • C’est votre maison. It’s your house.
  • Ce sont nos fleurs. They’re our flowers.

6. C’est + demonstrative adjective

Demonstrative adjectives (this, these) are also treated like articles.

  • C’est ce livre. It’s this book.
  • C’est cette chaise. It’s this chair.
  • C’est cet homme. It’s this man.

7. C’est + exclamation adjective

“C’est” is used when preceding a one-word masculine adjective as an exclamation. For example, if you just arrived at the beach, even though “la plage” (beach in French) is feminine, you’d still exclaim “C’est beau!” (It’s beautiful!). You cannot say, “c’est belle!”. That would be wrong.

  • C’est beau! It’s beautiful!
  • C’est dommage! What a shame!
  • C’est super! It’s super!
  • C’est génial! It’s great!
  • C’est vrai! It’s true!
  • C’est faux! It’s wrong!

There are situations where you might be tempted to use il est/elle est but the rule is c’est + masculine singular adjective for an exclamation.

  • Regardez les montagnes! C’est beau! Look at the mountains! They’re beautiful!
  • J’aime ce café! C’est sympa! It like this cafe. It’s nice.
  • J’adore cette pièce. C’est excellent! I love this play. It’s excellent!

In the last example sentence, you cannot say, “c’est excellente” even though “pièce” (play) is feminine. The rule is “c’est” + masculine singular adjective.

8. C’est + adjective + à + infinitive

Use this form to refer back to a previously spoken discussion topic or idea.

  • C’est bon à savoir. It’s good to know.
  • C’est impossible à dire. It’s impossible to say.

9. C’est + stress pronoun

Stress pronouns are words like “me” (rather than “I”) or “her” (rather than “she”). “C’est” always precedes stress pronouns.

  • C’est moi! It’s me!
  • C’est à moi! It’s mine!

Conclusion – c’est vs il est

We hope that you now have some clarity on “c’est” vs. “il est” in French. Again, the underlying rule is that articles trigger the usage of c’est. We hope this lesson has helped.

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