French Impersonal Expressions

Expressions impersonnelles

Young artists sketching at Notre Dame
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Impersonal expressions are those which do not have a specific subject. In grammatical terms, "impersonal" does not mean cold, but rather invariable by grammatical person. There are a few things you need to know about French impersonal expressions:

  • The French impersonal subject is either il or ce, whereas the English impersonal subject is "it."
  • All of the French impersonal expressions can begin with il est or c'est with no difference in meaning; however, c'est is less formal than il est. Therefore, c'est is more common in spoken French, while il est is more common in written French. (Note: this applies to il est and c'est only in impersonal expressions; in other constructions, there is a difference: c'est vs il est)

There are essentially two different types of constructions with impersonal expressions - either they are followed by que and a subordinate clause, or they are followed by a preposition and infinitive.

With Que

When using il est or c'est + adjective followed by que, the verb in the subordinate clause may need to be in the indicative or subjunctive, depending on the meaning of the impersonal expression:
Il est probable que David le fait / C'est probable que David le fait.
It's probable that David is doing it.
Il est possible que David le fasse / C'est possible que David le fasse.
It's possible that David is doing it.

Without Que

In expressions with il est or c'est + adjective followed by a preposition and infinitive, the choice of preposition depends on the type of subject:
a) When the impersonal subject is a dummy subject, you need the preposition de, and there are two possible constructions:
impersonal expression + de + intransitive infinitive
Il est difficile de parler / C'est difficile de parler.
It's hard to speak. (Speaking is hard)
impersonal expression + de + transitive infinitive + direct object
Il est important de dire la vérité / C'est important de dire la vérité.
It's important to tell the truth.
b) When the impersonal subject is a real subject and the infinitive is used intransitively as a passive infinitive, you must use the preposition à:
Il est bon à savoir / C'est bon à savoir.
That's good to know.
Il est difficile à faire / C'est difficile à faire.
That's hard to do.

Learn the Most Common French Impersonal Expressions

Many impersonal expressions require the subjunctive. To find out which ones, check The Subjunctivator!
Il est bizarre / C'est bizarre
It's odd
Il est bon / C'est bon
It's good
Il est certain / C'est certain
It's certain
Il est clair / C'est clair
It's clear/obvious
Il est convenable / C'est convenable
It's proper/fitting
Il est difficile / C'est difficile
It's difficult
Il est dommage / C'est dommage
It's too bad
Il est douteux / C'est douteux
It's doubtful
Il est essentiel / C'est essentiel
It's essential
Il est étonnant / C'est étonnant
It's amazing
Il est étrange / C'est étrange
It's strange
Il est évident / C'est évident
It's obvious
Il est facile / C'est facile
It's easy
Il est faux / C'est faux
It's false
Il est heureux / C'est heureux
It's fortunate
Il est honteux / C'est honteux
It's shameful
Il est important / C'est important
It's important
Il est impossible / C'est impossible
It's impossible
Il est improbable / C'est improbable
It's improbable
Il est indispensable / C'est indispensable
It's essential
Il est injuste / C'est injuste
It's unfair
Il est inutile / C'est inutile
It's useless
Il est juste / C'est juste
It's right/fair
Il est naturel / C'est naturel
It's natural
Il est nécessaire / C'est nécessaire
It's necessary
Il est normal / C'est normal
It's normal
Il est obligatoire / C'est obligatoire
It's necessary
Il est peu probable / C'est peu probable
It's not likely
Il est possible / C'est possible
It's possible
Il est probable / C'est probable
It's probable
Il est rare / C'est rare
It's rare
Il est regrettable / C'est regrettable
It's regrettable
Il est sûr / C'est sûr
It's sure/certain
Il est surprenant / C'est surprenant
It's surprising
Il est temps / C'est temps
It's time
Il est triste / C'est triste
It's sad
Il est urgent / C'est urgent
It's urgent
Il est utile / C'est utile
It's useful
Il est vrai / C'est vrai
It's true

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Team, ThoughtCo. "French Impersonal Expressions." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). French Impersonal Expressions. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "French Impersonal Expressions." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).

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