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Il est or c’est – that is the question!

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

It’s often the little words in French that are most problematic and today’s grammar question is one that I often get asked. There are a couple of rules that can help:

1) Use ‘c’est’ when 'it' is followed by a noun. E.g. c’est une maison, c’est le printemps

2) Use ‘il est’ when you’re going to use an adjective on its own. E.g. Voici mon frère. Il est très marrant.

However, if the phrase involves an impersonal phrase such as ‘il est important’ then you can use either ‘il est’ or ‘c’est’ as they both mean a neutral ‘it’ here. So, ‘il est important de manger bien’ is as good as ‘c’est important de manger bien’ and both are followed by the preposition ‘de’. I’m sure you will have heard both, and that is where the confusion stems from – both sound correct and familiar… because they are!

You can also use, ‘c’est’ with an adjective if you are referring to an inanimate object. For example, ‘c’est ta voiture? C’est beau’. In this case, the adjective directly behind ‘c’est’ is always masculine, regardless of the gender of the object you’re talking about.

C’est claire? Or, il est difficile de s’en souvenir? Do leave a comment, s’il vous plait :)

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