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c'est d'aimer et d'être aimé

I just ran into this sentence.

Il n'y a qu'un bonheur dans la vie: c'est d'aimer et d'être aimé.

Why is d' needed in d'aimer and d'être? Is there a grammar lesson to this? If I say "it's eating ice cream," do I say c'est manger de la glace or c'est de manger de la glace?


August 8, 2017



You need something else to know which one uses.

Because the using of "de" depends what is the subject of the sentence. If the subject is a infitive verb so you don't need "de", otherwise you need.

Vivre, c'est manger de la glace.

L'important, c'est de manger de la glace.

French debate here : https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/x-cest-de-infinitif.974273/?hl=fr


Indeed. However...

'Il n'y a qu'un bonheur dans la vie: c'est d'aimer et d'être aimé': this is grammatically wrong, to me. I would have not used 'de'. I think the person who wrote that sentence confused the construction with 'l'important, c'est de...' Not to mention that they named two things as one 'bonheur'.

'L'important, c'est de...' is the informal version of 'L'important est de...' In 19th-century books on Google Books, "l'important est de" (exact quote) gives 10,200 results, while "l'important c'est de" gives only 9 results.


That being said, this would be correct: 'C'est un bonheur, d'aimer et être aimé', which is the informal version of 'Aimer et être aimé est un bonheur' (if we consider 'aimer et être aimé' as one thing). The person who wrote the sentence 'Il n'y a qu'un bonheur dans la vie: c'est d'aimer et d'être aimé' must have not understood how it works.

  • L'important est d'aimer (formal).
  • L'important, c'est d'aimer (informal).
  • Une (seule) chose est importante : aimer.

Their sentence is based on the last example, and should not contain 'de'.


So I see that sentence is attributed to George Sand (a famous French writer, Aurore Dupin, known under her pseudonym). However, it cannot be found in 19th-century books. Quoting a writer without giving an exact reference is a terrible habit, and inventing quotes an even worse one.

I must admit that I may be wrong about that construction. I think the pattern is more: 'La seule solution, c'est de partir maintenant', or 'Il n'y a qu'une seule solution, c'est de partir maintenant'.

Well, it may actually be different when the first part of the sentence (before 'c'est') is a complete sentence. I guess in that case we can have 'de' or not.

Anyway, all this is informal, so we will not find well-defined rules.


Is the reason you think it's wrong because you can say c'est l'important d'aimer and it would sound natural but c'est un bonheur d'aimer et d'être aimé does not natural?

With this construction, I understand why d' is still needed between l'important is moved to the front.


It is the opposite: 'c'est l'important d'aimer' is incorrect, and 'c'est un bonheur, d'aimer et d'être aimé' is natural (please note the comma, because 'ce' is already the subject of 'est un bonheur', and 'd'aimer et d'être aimer' is only the elaborated form of the subject, so it has to be placed after a comma).


Looking for the source of the quote, I first found these old examples:

'Plus je vais, plus je trouve qu'il n'y a qu'un bonheur dans la vie, un bonheur devant lequel tous les autres disparaissent, c'est d'aimer Dieu et de se sacrifier pour Lui.' -- Françoise Teilhard de Chardin, letter to her mother, 1909

'Ce conquérant ignorait qu'il n'y a qu'un bonheur dans la vie : aimer et être aimé.' -- Julie Crémieux-Dunand, 'La Vie à Drancy' (1945)

As you can see, in the second example, 'de' has not been used.

And I finally found the most likely source by George Sand, in the novel 'Jacques' (1833):

'Le monde m'ennuie en peu de temps ; je sens le besoin d'y avoir un but, et nul autre but ne m'y semble désirable que d'aimer et d'être aimé. Peut-être serais-je plus heureux et plus sage si j'avais une profession', etc.

It is from a letter written by a man, so it is not necessarily the writer's opinion. Also, it is very well phrased and grammatically correct. There is no awkwardness like in the sentence in question.

I guess the sentence that is now given everywhere on the Internet (and even in printed books) as having been written by George Sand was vaguely quoted from memory and became popular in that very simple but grammatically awkward form. George Sand, of course, has never written such a mundane thing, in such an informal style.


Wow, you have done so much more research on this than I would have ever had. Thank you so much for doing it. So what are the rules here then?

Le/l'/la + noun + c'est d'/de + infinitive.
Un/une + noun + c'est + infinitive.
Infinitive + c'est + infinitive.

Does that sound correct? Merci encore.


Sounds correct, although for the second one, it seems we can also use 'de' if we feel like it.

And there must be a comma before 'c'est' in all three patterns, which are all informal.


Also, in case you want to note that down in a little note book (you may have one for French grammar), you do not need to include the versions with an apostrophe (you will certainly know when to use l' and d', so 'le/la' and 'de' are enough).

  • Le/la + noun, + c'est de + infinitive.
  • Un(e) + noun, + c'est [de] + infinitive.
  • Infinitive, + c'est + infinitive.


Thanks. Surprisingly I have no notebook. I have a blog and I write a lot of them down but then I never look at it again. Haha

I remember grammar ok but expressions I don't usually get a chance to practice and when I do get a chance I don't remember to recall those expressions. It's like the chicken and the egg thing :-(


Merci Kangourex. The link is very helpful. I tried to google it myself but couldn't think of the keywords to use. I appreciate you did it for me :-)

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