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)


   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