When telling time, it's always "Il est". However, according to: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081020192155AALKjB7 http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/grammar/c_est_il_est.shtml when saying it's too late, not in regard to the hour of the day, but to an opportunity that has passed you can use "c'est".
Oh, boy. What I hear in my head in Georges Moustaki singing "Il est trop tard," "Pendant que je dormais, pendant que je rêvais, Les aiguilles ont tourné- il est trop tard. Mon enfance est si loin, il est déjà demain- Passe passe le temps, il n'y en a plus pour très longtemps."
(a musical interlude from my high school French classes in the 70's)
There must be a subtle distinction between il est and c'est.. trop tard. Can anyone explain?
The basic difference is when a noun is followed by an "Il est"
Il est un homme. -> Wrong, because the noun "un" is there, the correct way would be "C'est un homme."
The same happens with pronouns (mon/ma ; son/sa ; ton/ta), if after an Il est or Elle est is a pronoun, you must use C'est.
When it comes to adjectives, you'll most likely use Il est/Elle est. There's a really good table I found where it explains this in a few examples in a site.
For the site: http://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/cest-versus-il-elle-est
For the table (it's in the site too): http://www.frenchtoday.com/giveaway/c-est-versus-Il-est-FrenchToday.pdf
"Il est tard" is strictly about time. The impersonal "il" used here is the same one used for telling time: "Il est dix heures" par exemple.
To describe people that arrive after a scheduled time, use "en retard." So "he is late" is "Il est en retard." (And if you want to use a more familiar expression, you can say "Il est à la bourre" for "he is running late.")
TI had the same question and the explanation I found is this: "tard" is just an adverb, so it doesn't work as an adjective. If you were to say "he is already too late" you would say something like "Il est déjà trop retardé".
Edit: should have said "en retarde". Apparently "retardé" has a different connotation.
Repeating what is already mentioned above:
"Il est tard" is strictly about time. The impersonal "il" used here is the same one used for telling time: "Il est dix heures" for example. The "il" doesn't refer to any person or object.
"He is late" is "Il est en retard." To describe people that arrive after a scheduled time, use "en retard." So "he is late" is "Il est en retard."
- It is already too late = Il est déjà trop tard
- He is already too late = Il est déjà trop en retard