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  5. "C'est" vs "Il est" (singular…


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

  • 1645

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:

http://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/cest-versus-il-elle-est (I printed the 1 page PDF)



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.

  • 1645

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


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!


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?

  • 1645

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


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.


I think what Remy was saying was that you need the article "un" before "avocat" in "C'est un avocat". You can't just say "C'est avocat", and you can't just say "C'est professeur". You can say "C'est un avocat" and "C'est le professeur", and you can say "Il est avocat" and "Il est professeur". Refer to the original post. In short, you need a determiner before the noun when using "ce + être". But note that there are (a few) exceptions, such as "C'est mercredi" and "C'est Paris".

Also read this: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/cest-vs-il-est/



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


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


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


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


"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"?

  • 1645

You cannot say "Elle est tard"


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


Merci beaucoup ! This was super helpful.


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")


No, proper names come after “c’est...” and it can be translated as “ He is Pierre.” https://www.thoughtco.com/french-expressions-cest-vs-il-est-4083779

You can also say “Here is...” and “There is...” with « Voici... » and « Voilà... ». https://www.thoughtco.com/voila-vocabulary-1371436


Thank you @ALLintolearning3


That's a great article, thank you again.


D’accord. Merci beacoup.


If I were trying to say "It is a [insert object]" how do you know when to use "c'est" or simply say "Il est" or "Elle est" depending on the gender of the object? I seem to keep confusing the two, and am not sure what the actual rule is. Any help is appreciated!

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