French Impersonal Expressions

Expressions impersonnelles

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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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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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    Your Citation
    Lawless, Laura K. "French Impersonal Expressions." ThoughtCo, Apr. 2, 2017, Lawless, Laura K. (2017, April 2). French Impersonal Expressions. Retrieved from Lawless, Laura K. "French Impersonal Expressions." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).