French Grammar For Dummies
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Sometimes, an English she does not translate to elle in French. For example, to say She is my friend, you’d say c’est mon amie. What happened to she?

How to use c’est and ce sont

If someone asks you, “Who is that woman?”, you’d probably answer with “She’s . . .”. To answer this type of question, French uses c’est in singular (masculine and feminine) and ce sont in plural instead of il/elle est and ils/elles sont.

C’est is the demonstrative adjective ce (abbreviated to c’ before est) + the third person singular of the verb être (to be), and ce sont is the demonstrative adjective ce + the third person plural of être. Here are more examples:

C’est un chien. (It’s/this is a dog.)
Ce sont mes enfants. (They’re my children.)

Use ce in the negative (singular and plural) before ne.

Ce n’est pas mon sac. (It’s not my bag.)
Ce ne sont pas des diamants! (These are not diamonds.)

So why do you want to use c’est to express she’s my friend? It’s because, for once, the gender doesn’t matter as much as the act of presenting the person or thing. Here’s when you should use c’est or ce sont intead of elle/il est or ils/elles sont.

  • Use c’est or ce sont before a noun, a name, or a stress pronoun to name a person or answer the question qui (who). For example:

    • C’est ma mère. (That’s my mother.)

    • Ce sont Julie et Anne. (They are Julie and Anne.)

  • Use c’est or ce sont before a noun, to name a thing, or answer the question qu’est-ce que c’est? (what is it?). For example:

    • Cette machine? C’est une agrafeuse. (That machine? It’s a stapler.)

    • C’est le Grand Canyon. (That’s the Grand Canyon.)

C’est can also express your own reaction to a situation, or an object, when it’s followed by a masculine singular adjective instead of a noun. For example, you see the sunset and you exclaim C’est beau! (It’s beautiful!)

What to do with il/elle est

If you use c’est to introduce people, you may wonder when can you use il/elle est. The answer is kind of simple and kind of not. Il/elle est is followed by an adjective; c’est is followed by a noun, like this:

Use il/elle est or ils/elles sont + matching adjective
Use c’est/ce sont + article + noun

That part is fairly clear, right? The problem is with the names of nationalities, religions, and professions that can be used as nouns (used with an article) or as adjectives (used without an article)! In other words, you choose.

Here are some examples to illustrate the difference between the two types of sentences:

  • If you describe a woman who is French, use the adjective to say: Elle est française.

    If you introduce a Frenchwoman, you say: C’est une Française.

    When a nationality such as français (French) is used as an adjective, it is not capitalized (il est français). When it is used as a noun (Frenchman), it is capitalized and used with an article: un Français (a Frenchman).

  • If you describe a man who is Catholic, use the adjective to say: Il est catholique.

    If you introduce a man as a Catholic, you say: C’est un catholique.

  • If you describe a person who is a professor, use the adjective to say: Il/elle est professeur.

    If you introduce a person as a professor, you say: C’est un professeur.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Véronique Mazet has a doctorate in French from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of two successful grammar books. She currently teaches French at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

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