TNs, U05: Gallicism (C’est or Il est, Idioms with Avoir)

A gallicism is a phrase or grammatical construction peculiar to the French language.

C'est or Il est?

When describing people and things with a noun after être in French, you usually can't use the personal subject pronoun like il, elle, ils, and elles. Instead, you must use the indefinite pronoun ce, which can also mean "this" or "that". Note that ce is invariable, so it can never be ces sont.

Indefinite Subject Pronoun Personal Subject Pronoun
Singular c'est il/elle est
Plural ce sont ils/elles sont

These pronouns aren't interchangeable. The basic rule is that you must use ce when être is followed by any determiner—for instance, an article or a possessive adjective. Note that c'est should be used for singulars and ce sont should be used for plurals.

  • C'est un homme. — He's a man. / This is a man. / That is a man.
  • Ce sont des chats. — They're cats. / These are cats. / Those are cats.
  • C'est la fille. — She is the girl. / This is the girl. / That is the girl.
  • Ce sont les femmes. — They are the women. / These are the women. / Those are the women.

If an adjective, adverb, or both appear after être, then use the personal pronoun.

  • Elle est belle. — She is beautiful. (Or "It is beautiful.")
  • Il est très fort. — He is very strong. (Or "It is very strong.")

As you know, nouns generally need determiners, but one important exception is that professions can act as adjectives after être and devenir (“to become”). This is optional; you can also choose to treat them as nouns.

  • He is a doctor. — Il est médecin. / C'est un médecin.

However, c'est should be used when using an adjective to make a general comment about (but not describe) a thing or situation. In this case, use the masculine singular form of the adjective.

  • C'est normal ? — Is this normal?
  • Non, c'est étrange. — No, this is strange.

Idioms with Avoir

One of the most common idioms in French is the use of the verb avoir in certain places where English would use the verb "to be". This is especially common for states or conditions that a person may experience.

  • Elle a chaud. — She is warm. (Or "She feels warm.")
  • Il a froid. — He is cold.
  • Elle a deux ans. — She is two years old.
  • J'ai peur ! — I am afraid!

Important: If you find any errors in the Tips and Notes, have questions related to the grammar points above, or would like to discuss the topic in depth, please feel free to comment below. We ask that you keep your comments on topic so that this post stays educational and everyone can benefit from them. Any spam or unrelated comments will be deleted.

For more Tips and Notes, click HERE

December 6, 2018


Your last point about using avoir is analogous to how these sentences are often expressed in Spanish (a closely related language), in which these ideas are expressed with tener ("to have"). Tener, of course, is cognate to many Latin-derived words in English such as "maintain" (lit. "to hold in the hand"), "tenacious" (holding firm), "obtain", and "tenant" (one who holds something).

  • Ella tiene calor. - She is warm. (literally, "She has heat").
  • Él tiene frío. - He is cold. (literally, "He has coldness").
  • Ella tiene dos años. - She is two years old. (literally, "She has two years").
  • ¡Tengo miedo! - I am afraid! (literally, "I have fear").
December 6, 2018

The same goes for Italian as well :)

March 28, 2019

"You must use ce when être is followed by any determiner—for instance, an article or a possessive adjective." Question: What other "determiners" are there?

December 12, 2018

On top of indefinite and definite articles, and possessive adjectives, you will use "c'est" and "ce sont" with:

  • demonstrative adjectives: ce, cet, cette, ces
  • numerals: un, deux, trois...
  • possessive pronouns: le mien, le tien, le sien...
  • demonstrative pronouns: celui, celle, ceux, celles
  • interrogative pronouns: lequel, laquelle, lesquels, lesquelles
  • proper nouns and titles: Pierre, Madame Dupont...
  • stressed pronouns: moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles
  • indefinite adjectives: quelques, plusieurs, différents
December 12, 2018

Thank you.please more explaine and write examples about your comment especially indication of pronouns.

June 2, 2019

You will learn all these adjectives and pronouns in the course, little by little, with lots of examples.

June 2, 2019

So, how come you can say "Il est UN prince" instead of "Il est prince"?

December 16, 2018

It is not correct to say "il est un prince". Whenever the verb être is followed by determiner (see Sitesurf's post above) the next word is a noun and you must use either c'est or ce sont. Occupations can be treated as either adjectives (no determiner), in which case you use "il est", or nouns (determiner), "c'est/ce sont".

  • Il est prince. (adjective, no determiner)
  • C'est un prince. (noun, determiner un)
December 16, 2018

And yet when you say "I am a doctor/lawyer/prince etc" you say "Je suis un..." correct?

December 16, 2018

The rule applies to "il/elle est" and "ils/elles sont", not to other personal pronouns.

  • Je suis médecin (no alternative)
  • Il est médecin + C'est un médecin

"Il est un" or "elle est une" is a no-go, so "He is a prince of Luxemburg" has to be "Il est prince du Luxembourg" or "C'est un prince du Luxembourg".

December 16, 2018

Just to clear things up..."He is a prince of Luxembourg" is "Il est prince de luxembourg", but "He is a prince of the people" is "Il est UN prince du peuple". Correct?

December 16, 2018

Merci bien ! Je suis reconnaissant !

June 1, 2019
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