Learn the French Expressions C'est vs Il est

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Lawless, Laura K. "Learn the French Expressions C'est vs Il est." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-expressions-cest-vs-il-est-4083779. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, March 10). Learn the French Expressions C'est vs Il est. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-expressions-cest-vs-il-est-4083779 Lawless, Laura K. "Learn the French Expressions C'est vs Il est." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-expressions-cest-vs-il-est-4083779 (accessed September 26, 2017).
Aerial view of Paris
"Paris? C'est magnifique!" (Paris? It's magnificent!). Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

The French expressions c'est and il est are extremely important impersonal expressions. They can mean things like this isthat isit isthey 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 estils 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. Click the links in the red box below for detailed information about each of these uses of c'est and il est.

Adjective describing a person
Il est fort, cet homme.
(That man is strong.)
Elle est intelligente.
(She is smart.)
vs Adjective describing a situation
J'entends sa voix, c'est bizarre.
(I hear his voice, it's weird.)
C'est normal !
(That's normal!)
Unmodified adverb 
Il est tard.
(It's late.)
Elles sont ici.
(They are here)
vs Modified adverb
C'est trop tard.
(It's too late.)
C'est très loin d'ici.
(It's very far from here.)
Unmodified noun 
Il est avocat.
(He's a lawyer.)
Elle est actrice.
(She's an actress.)
vs Modified noun
C'est un avocat.
(He's a lawyer.)
C'est une bonne actrice.
(She's a 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.)
Stressed pronoun
C'est moi.  (That's me.)