Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 65): les expressions – c’est vis-à-vis il est


Source: french.about.com

The French expressions c’est and il est are extremely important impersonal expressions. They can mean things like “this is,” “that is,” “it is,” “they are,” and even “he/she is.”

Paris? C’est magnifique! Paris? It’s magnificent!
Il est facile d’apprendre le français. It’s easy to learn French.
C’est une fille sympa, Lise. Lise? She’s a nice girl.
Où est Paul ? Il est en retard. Where’s Paul? He’s late.

C’est and il est are the root forms, used for impersonal expressions and general comments: It’s interesting, It’s nice, It’s fortunate, It’s too bad, etc.

When talking about specific people, things, or ideas, c’est and il est may change.

C’est becomes ce sont when followed by a plural noun. In spoken French, though, c’est is often used anyway.

Il est becomes elle est, ils sont, or elles sont, as appropriate depending on the gender and number of the noun that it is replacing or modifying.

Ce sont des Français? Non, des Italiens. Are they French? No, Italian.
Voici Alice – elle est professeur. This is Alice – she’s a teacher.

Despite their similar meanings, the expressions c’est and il est are not interchangeable – there are rules for using each one. The following table summarizes the different things that can be used after each of them.

IL EST C’EST
Adjective describing a person

Il est fort, cet homme. That man is strong.

Elle est intelligente. She is smart.

Adjective describing a situation

J’entends sa voix, c’est bizarre. I hear his voice, it’s weird.

C’est normal! It’s normal!

Unmodified adverb

Il est tard. It’s late.

Elles sont ici. They are here.

Modified adverb

C’est trop tard. It’s too late.

C’est trés loin d’ici. It’s very far from here.

Unmodified noun

Il est advocat. He is a lawyer.

Elle est actrice. She is an actress.

Modified noun

C’est un advocat. He’s a lawyer.

C’est une bonne actrice. She’s a very good actress.

Prepositional phrase (people)

Il est à la banque. He’s at the bank.

Elle est en France. She’s in France.

Proper name

C’est Luc. That’s Luc.

C’est moi. That’s me.

Despite their similar meanings, the expressions c’est and il est are not interchangeable – there are rules for using each one.

When followed by a plural noun, c’est is supposed to become ce sont, but in spoken French c’est is often used.

C’est is used with:

1. Modified nouns (article and/or adjective + noun)

Tu vois cet homme-là? C’est mon père. You see that man? That’s my father.
C’est la vie! That’s life!
C’est une très bonne idée. It’s a very good idea.
C’est une vraie histoire. It’s a true story.

2. Adjectives that describe the general situation or something already mentioned or implied in the conversation

Tu as vu ce film? Have you seen this movie?
Oui, c’est incroyable! Yes, it’s incredible!

C’est complètement fou! That’s utterly insane!

3. Impersonal expressions
In impersonal expressions, c’est is less formal than il est.

C’est important à faire. It’s important to do.
C’est difficile à comprendre. It’s hard to understand.

4. Names

Qui est-ce? C’est Luc. Who is it/that? It’s Luc.
C’est Pierre qui a menti. Pierre is the one who lied.

5. Stressed pronouns (accent tonique) – note that the verb conjugates to the pronoun, not c’est

C’est moi qui t’ai dit la verité. I’m the one who told you the truth.
C’est nous qui avons décidé. We’re the ones who decided.

6. Modified adverbs

C’est trop tard. It’s too late.
C’est par ici. It’s over here.
C’est très loin. It’s very far.

Il est becomes elle est, ils sont, or elles sont, as appropriate depending on the gender and number of the noun that it is replacing or modifying.

Il est can be followed by a(n):

1. Unmodified* noun of profession, religion, or nationality (*no article, adjective, or other modifier)

Voici mon frère – il est médecin. This is my brother – he’s a doctor.
Il est catholique. He’s a Catholic.

2. Adjective, usually referring to a person

Tu as parlé au prof? Est-il intelligent? You talked to the teacher? Is he smart?
Cette fille, elle est très gentille. This girl (she) is very kind.

3. Impersonal expressions
In impersonal expression, il est is more formal than c’est.

Il est bon de partir. It’s good to leave.
Il est facile de jouer au tennis. It’s easy to play tennis (playing tennis is easy).

4. Prepositional phrase

Où est Luc ? Il est à la banque. Where is Luc? He’s at the bank.
Nos voisins, ils sont d’Irelande. Our neighbors (they) are from Ireland.

5. Adverb

Quelle heure est-il? Il est tard. What time is it? It’s late.
Où est Jean ? Il est ici. Where is Jean? He’s here.

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