French C’est vs Il est – Top Ten Tips

If you’ve already learned how to conjugate and start using one of the most essential verbs in French – ÊTRE – Bravo!  

Now it’s time to move on to another crucial aspect of être – knowing when to use “c’est” and “il est.” This is a concept that will leave you feeling completely lost if nobody ever tells you about a few simple rules.  This is where I come in!

I have no idea why, but for some reason this lesson is almost always left out of French courses and grammar books.  That’s just crazy, because I have even had many B2 level students who tell me they just sort of guess at when to use “c’est” vs “il est.”

My video lesson on “c’est” and “il est” is less than 15 minutes long.  That’s not a huge time investment on your part, but it will keep you from making some very common mistakes that you may not even be aware of.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, you really need to watch this lesson in which I explain the differences between the two and give you solid rules on how to determine which one to use in different situations. 

In 15 short minutes I cover everything from basic grammar rules to more nuanced situations, so you can feel confident using these phrases in any context.

To help you practice and master this tricky grammar topic, I’ve created a set of 50 practice cards to accompany my video lesson. These cards will provide you with ample opportunities to practice using “c’est” and “il est” correctly in a variety of contexts. 


1.  “C’est” and “Ce sont” are followed by determiners, words that indicate the number and gender of the noun that follows. Look for determiners like:  un, une, de la , du, des, mon, ma, mes, ce, cette, etc.

2.  “C’est” and “Ce sont” are followed by proper nouns and disjunctive pronouns like moi, toi, lui, elle, etc. 

3.  “C’est” and “Ce sont” are followed by dates and adjectives for non-specific things.

4.  Use “c’est” to describe time, such as “C’est l’heure de partir.”

5.  Use “c’est” to express emotions or opinions, such as “C’est dommage.”

6.  “Il est – Elle est – Ils sont – Elles sont” are followed by adjectives that refer to specific people or things.

7.  “Il est – Elle est – Ils sont – Elles sont” are followed by professions.  Note that in French you don’t need UN or UNE before a profession. 

8.  Use “il est” to say what time it is, such as “Il est 17h00.”

9. “Il est – Elle est – Ils sont – Elles sont” are followed by prepositions, such as “Ils sont dans la cuisine.”

10. Remember that “c’est” means “it is”, and it can also mean “he is” or “she is” given the context!

Go ahead and start using these tips and rules help you better understand how to use “c’est” and “il est”, and you won’t find yourself still making the same mistakes years down the road.  It happens!

Don’t forget to check out my video lesson and practice cards to practice and master this important grammar skill.

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