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


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!


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


Q&A

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

0 replies

Who's your teacher?

I want to know all possible answers for that question

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?

Paola

Kwiziq community member

11 December 2018

8 replies

Why do we say "Qu'est-ce que tu en penses ?

Qu'est-ce que tu en penses ? 

Paola

Kwiziq community member

11 December 2018

11/12/18

instead of "Qu'est-ce que tu penses ?" 

Chris

Kwiziq community member

12 December 2018

12/12/18

Qu'est-ce que tu en penses? -- What do you think of it?

What do you mean by "why do we say this"?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

12 December 2018

12/12/18

Qu'est-ce que tu en penses? -- What do you think of it?
Qu'est-ce que tu penses? -- What do you think?

It depends on what you want to say.

Alan

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

I am surprised at this. As a native English speaker I would say that "What do you think?" means the same as "What to you think of/about it?" You can drop the "of/about it" when the context is obvious. I'm obviously not a native French speaker, but I would have thought you can't do the same thing in French, so "Qu'est-ce que tu penses?" is either wrong, or implies a direct object, so it would have to mean something like "What are you planning?".

Chris

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

Maybe "What are you thinking." is the better translation, in the sense of "a penny for your thoughts" :)

Alan

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

But is that how you would say it in French? Wouldn't it be "À quoi tu penses?"

Chris

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

According to a French native speaker, both is possible:

Qu'est-ce que tu pense. -- What are you thinking about?
À quoi tu penses. -- What are you thinking about?

According to her, they are both possible and mean exactly the same thing: asking someone what he is thinking, without reference to anything mentioned earlier.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

Qu'est-ce que tu penses, of course, I forgot the "s". Wish there was some way to edit one's typos...

Sherin

Kwiziq community member

29 October 2018

1 reply

Chris this question is to you only answer in french

Où est-ce que tu travailles?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

1 November 2018

1/11/18

Je travaille en Autriche.

Susan

Kwiziq community member

29 October 2018

3 replies

But inthe examples, “She is a good swimmer” “It is a pretty dress” &”That is the dress I wear to work” all seem specific why use C’est?

I would think it would be il or elle.  they just do not seem to be general things. The dress I wear to work is a specific dress

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

30 October 2018

30/10/18

Hi Susan,

If you scroll down the Q&A section at the bottom of this lesson , you will see that there is quite a lot of discourse regarding when to use, c'est and il/elle est-

You cannot say in French - 'Elle est une bonne nageuse' but, 'C'est une bonne nageuse' is the only correct sentence.

It is the same for "It is a pretty dress" you cannot use  Elle here -

"C'est une jolie robe " is the only acceptable answer.

Hope this helps!

 

Paola

Kwiziq community member

11 December 2018

11/12/18

Why can't I say "Elle est une bonne nageuse" if I am talking about "she" (elle)? Is this just a gramatical rule? Thank you

Paola

Kwiziq community member

11 December 2018

11/12/18

In the video, the teacher sayed Il/elle est is used for jobs and adjectives, nageuse in this case is an adjective. Why does it is wrong? 

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

29 September 2018

1 reply

C'est AND Il/Elle est can both be correct in some situations?

In this weeks Weekend Workout 28-09-2018 'Mrs Durand's Menagerie' we are asked to translate:

'Mrs Durand lives in the countryside, its perfect for animals.'

There are two correct answers given for 'its perfect for animals':

C'est parfait pour les animaux! AND Elle est parfaite pour les animaux!

The lesson, however, shows how to choose between the use of C'est and the use of 'Il/Elle est' ... implying that only one of these two options is correct in any given situation. 

Could you please explain why both options are correct in this particular instance.

Thank you

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

3 October 2018

3/10/18

Bonjour Stewart !

In "Mrs Durand's Menagerie", the text is actually:

Mrs Durand lives in the countryside, in a beautiful blue house with a big garden! It's perfect for animals.

What the lesson states is that you use either c'est or il/elle est, and it's valid for most cases. But it also explains that you use c'est for general statements.

So in this particular situation, depending on what "it" represents, you could indeed use either:
C'est parfait ... Here you're considering the whole general situation as perfect for animals
- Elle est parfaite ... Here you're referring specifically to the house (la maison) as being perfect for animals.
I hope that's helpful!
Bonne journée !

Geoff

Kwiziq community member

28 September 2018

3 replies

Cette pomme est bonne. - Oui, c'est bon.

I got this question:

Cette pomme est bonne. - Oui, c'est _______.

I answered bon because I knew to use the masculine, but my question is why it's c'est in this case. I've read the relevant pages (https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/review/4671/2123437 and https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/review/4671/2123437) and my interpretation is that this would fall under 2b of https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/review/4671/2123437

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

Geoff

Kwiziq community member

28 September 2018

28/09/18

To add to this, the English translation provided by Kwiziq was:

This apple is good. Yes, it is good.

Had it said "This apple is good. Yes, they are good," then « Ce sont bon » would have made sense to me (versus « elle est bonne »).

Max

Kwiziq community member

30 September 2018

30/09/18

My issue with Kwiziq is that when I ask a question, I get back "We don't speak French" - not what I would have expected.

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

4 February 2019

4/02/19

Hi Max - you may have had that response from someone on our email customer support as that is for technical and billing-related support and not all email support staff are qualified French teachers. 

However, language questions posted here on the Q&A will be answered both by our qualified language experts as well as other members of our learner community, some of whom have an impressive level of French.

Hope that explains that response!

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