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.

    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)

          or

       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