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French Grammar Lesson 6

“C’est” versus “Il est” – Which is Correct?

They both are!

Audible French translates both “c’est” and “il est” as “it’s.” And yet there are distinct situations in which you’d favor one over the other. Let’s look at some examples.

The sentence “It’s hard to learn French” would be translated “Il est difficile d’apprendre le français.” In this case, “it” really doesn’t refer to anything in particular, and the rest of the sentence is an adjective (“hard”) followed by a prepositional phrase (“to learn French”). By custom, in situations like these, “il est” is used.

However, in the sentence “It’s my dog Pierre” (which would be translated “C’est mon chien Pierre”), “it’s” definitely does refer to something – it refers to Pierre. And once you have identified what “it’s” refers to, the sentence is essentially over. You could add “it’s my dog Pierre who has been lost for three days,” but you really wouldn’t need to. “C’est mon chien Pierre” stands on its own as a complete thought.

Essentially, in the sentence “Il est difficile d’apprendre le français.” If you left off the prepositional phrase, you’d be left with “Il est difficile,” forcing the listener to ask “What is hard? What are you talking about?” This type of sentence gets “il est.” In the sentence “C’est mon chien Pierre,” the sentence provides its own answer – it requires nothing else. This type of sentence gets “c’est.”

That being said, younger generations continue to blur grammatical lines, and it’s not at all unusual to hear young French people use “c’est” in a situation where their parents would have used “il est.” Times change, and so do languages.

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