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“C’est” or “Il/elle est” ?

September 10, 2012

To  introduce a thing or a person “c’est” and “il/elle est” are used (plural : “ce sont“, “ils/elles sont“).

“C’est” is not specifically for “things” and “il/elle est” is not specifically for persons. The use of one or the other depends on the nature of the words following the be verb. “C’est” is usually followed by a determiner (article, possessive adjective etc.), while “il/elle est” by an adjective (or a profession etc.).

In the following cases, “c’est” (and not “il/elle est) will always be used :

1) C’est + nom propre

Ex : C’est Marie. Elle est Marie.

2) C’est + article indéfini + nom (+ adjectif)

Ex : C’est un musicien célèbre. Il est un musicien célèbre.

3) C’est + adjectif possessif + nom

Ex : C’est mon frère. Il est mon frère.

4) C’est + article défini + nom (+ de (+ article défini) + nom)

Ex : C’est le sac de Léo. Il est le sac de Léo.
Ex : C’est le fils de la directrice. Il est le fils de la directrice.

When “c’est” is followed by an adjective, “c’est” does not refer to a specific person or thing (while “il/elle est” does) and can be translated by “that“.

Ex : Il est stupide. (He’s stupid.) ≠ C’est stupide. (That’s stupid.)

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