"C'est" vs "Il est" (singular) & "Ce sont" vs "Ils sont" (plural)

  • 1017

You have to use "c'est" when there is an article (une, un, le, la, or l'), a possessive (mon/ton/son, ma/ta/sa, notre/votre/leur) before the noun, or before a possessive pronoun (le nôtre/le vôtre/le leur/la nôtre/la vôtre/la leur).

  • Ex: You have to say "C'est mon garçon. C'est le mien", NOT: "Il est mon garçon. Il est le mien."
  • Note: you can use "Il est" before an adjective (ex: "Il est riche." = "He is rich."), before a noun of occupation with no article (ex: "Il est avocat." = "He is a lawyer."), or before an adverb (ex: "Il est tard." = "It is late.").
  • The same rules apply for the feminine singular pronoun "elle" (except for the adverb case).

You have to use "ce sont" when there is an article (des or les), a possessive (mes/tes/ses, nos/vos/leurs) before the noun, or before a possessive pronoun (les nôtres/les vôtres/les leurs).

  • ex: You have to say "Ce sont nos garçons. Ce sont les nôtres", NOT: "Ils sont nos garçons. Ils sont les nôtres."
  • Note: you can use "Ils sont" before an adjective (ex: "Ils sont riches." = "They are rich."), or before a noun of occupation with no article (ex: "Ils sont avocats." = "They are lawyers.").
  • The same rules apply for the feminine plural pronoun "elles".
August 6, 2014


Same basic info but sites you can bookmark for easy reference: (I printed the 1 page PDF)

August 6, 2014

Just to be clear, we can substitute "c'est avocat" → "il est avocat"?

Also I think that the section of the course that needs most attention is probably the part dealing with prepositions. The one's I've seen seen the most are arguments over :

  • À, au;
  • aux vs en;
  • dans vs sur
  • en vs dans vs sur; and
  • pour vs par vs à.

To name a few.

August 6, 2014
  • 1017

"C'est un avocat." = "Il est avocat."

August 6, 2014

I thought as much, but a Google search uncovered 3 million instances of a direct quote "c'est avocat", and 23 million instances of "c'est professeur". So a lot of L1/L2 speakers must make this mistake.

Good to know!

August 6, 2014

I really don't see in which context one would say "c'est avocat". I also did the Google search and most instances were mistakes from "ces avocats", not "c'est un avocat".

August 8, 2014

Just a thought... might it be that many of those instances of « c'est professeur » are cases where "professeur" is used as a title, to be immediately followed by the professor's name?

September 5, 2016
  • 1017

No, you can't say "C'est professeur Dubois". You should say: "C'est le professeur Dubois".

November 2, 2016

Actually, you don't discuss proper names, but the new section to learn the difference between "c'est" and "il est"/"elle est" seems to put proper names after "c'est". Could you add examples to the top and people would really like an example of that in the Tips and Notes for that section. They have, for example, in the lesson "C'est Bruno." which they accept "He is Bruno." for it but not "It's Bruno." or "That's Bruno." So perhaps, "C'est Remy." or "C'est Aline." Names are handled so differently in English, for instance, we would capitalize "Professor Dubois" and it would become part of his name.

March 28, 2018


I was following this advice as a guide when I was doing an exercise in the English from French tree. I was asked to translate "They are a couple" and, because of the indefinite article, I wrote "Ce sont un couple" and it was wrong - I should have written "Ils sont un couple". Does this follow that the rule for "C'est" (ie when there is an article such as un, une, la, le, l') doesn't appy to "Ce sont"? And what about the plural "les"? Does one say "Ce sont les étudiants" or "Ils sont les étudinats".

Merci pour ton aide

June 27, 2016

I think it's ils sont en couple

en couple means in a relationship

as en is not a determiner (its a preposition or pronoun) then it cannot be ce sont

as for your other question, it is ce sont les étudiants - they are the students

you also have

ce sont des étudiants / ils sont étudiants - they are students

As an aside: Here is a situation where something applies to c'est but not to ce sont

The general rules for using c'est and ce sont are:

c'est + determiner + noun phrase

ce sont + determiner + noun phrase

There are exceptions. For example: to make a comment about something or convey a general idea you can use the construction

c’est + adjective masculine singular

but you cannot use ce sont + adjective


le français c'est fantastique - French is fantastic

j'étudie le français, c'est intéressant - I am studying French, it is interesting

c'est incroyable - it is incredible

October 20, 2016

Merci de ta réponse. I forgot that I had asked this but the information is useful all the same.

October 20, 2016

Ah, makes so much more sense now. Merci, Remy.

August 6, 2014


November 3, 2018

"The same rules apply for the feminine singular pronoun "elle" (except for the adverb case)." - what do you mean by "except for the adverb case"?

February 14, 2015
  • 1017

You cannot say "Elle est tard"

October 20, 2016

Merci Remy! I was always having trouble between those two...or four :P

October 29, 2016

Merci beaucoup ! This was super helpful.

July 26, 2018
August 11, 2014

What about when you are presenting or pointing out someone? Can you say "Il est Pierre." Or do you have to say "C'est Pierre." Just got done with a lesson and I always thought when using "c'est", it basically was "This is or that is." So when you want to say "He is Pierre," wouldn't both work? (i.e. "Il est Pierre" and "C'est Pierre")

October 31, 2018

No, proper names come after “c’est...” and it can be translated as “ He is Pierre.”

You can also say “Here is...” and “There is...” with « Voici... » and « Voilà... ».

October 31, 2018

Thank you @ALLintolearning3

October 31, 2018

That's a great article, thank you again.

October 31, 2018

D’accord. Merci beacoup.

December 27, 2018
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