Take the 2-minute tour ×
French Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the French language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Edit by Aerovistae: Regarding the bounty: The current answer is not really sufficiently clear to fully understand the different circumstances in which one might use "ce sont" vs "ils sont / elles sont." There are also other tenses to consider...for instance, should it be "c'etaient"? An answer in English would be preferred for this one.


If for example I want to say "They are children", I would've thought one would use the phrase:

Ils sont des enfants.

... or even:

Ces sont des enfants.

However I think the correct way to say it is:

Ce sont des enfants.

But why is this? Isn't ce to be used with singular nouns, not plural? And why not ils? How can you know where you should use ce in sentences like this, and when to use ils?

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The best way to say it is:

Ce sont des enfants.

This is called a tour présentatif : Utilisation du pronom neutre ce suivi du verbe être accordé en nombre avec « des enfants ».

You can get more informations here: Grammaire française by M. Breckx Ed. De Boeck, 1996, on google books (section “La phrase à présentatif”). They explain it using “Ce sont les voisins”.

Notes: Ces sont des enfants is incorrect, and Ils sont des enfants sounds weird.

The reference seems not to be available to everyone. Here is a version of what is said: La phrase à présentatif

Sur le plan grammatical, la phrase à présentatif se traduit selon trois modèles différents:

  • C'est…, ce sont…
  • Il y a…
  • Voici-Voilà…

C'est…, ce sont… Cette tournure présentative se construit avec un démonstratif plus le verbe être.

Le verbe ne varie pas en personne mais peut varier en nombre en en temps. L'accord se fait soit avec la suite du verbe, soit avec ce :

  • C'est mon ami. – C'est les pigeons qui s'envolent. (registre familier)
  • Ce seraient de belles vacances.

Il est préférable de placer le verbe au pluriel:

  • C'est les voisins. (oral, familier)
  • Ce sont les voisins. (écrit ou oral)

Exception, la phrase nominale :

C'est nous, c'est eux.

Dans la phrase « C'est du thé anglais », la suite du verbe, obligatoire, s'appelle le complément du présentatif.

share|improve this answer
Additionnaly, I would translate ce sont des enfants by these are childrens, but don't take my word for it, my english is not very god. –  Jean Apr 9 '13 at 20:39
Je crois que si l'on utilise la phrase "ce sont des enfants" à suivre une phrase comme "Ne te fâcher pas avec eux", la traduction pourrait bien être "Don't get angry/mad with them, they are just children". "Childrens" n'est jamais correcte. –  Paola Apr 9 '13 at 21:43
Paola, I agree with your translation, it looks good. Also, thanks for the correction of children. –  Jean Apr 9 '13 at 22:01
@Jean I'm still not quite sure when you are meant to use the présentatif. Is it basically any time you would use the verb be in a simple English sentence, like x is y, x was y, or x will be y? –  Jez Apr 10 '13 at 21:57
When to use the présentatif? This is a hard one. Well, I think it is mainly used to put focus on the word enfants. Anyway, amongst the three sentences in your question, it is the only one that is correct. There is also this webpage that aims at presenting les structures à présentatif, but the (obviously) translated text is not that good. And there are some additional explanations here, if you can access it. –  Jean Apr 10 '13 at 22:07

"ces sont des enfants". it is an abomination !

In a french book for example:

"Ce sont des enfants" ONLY !!!!

(Colloquial, familiar language) --> "C'est des enfants"

share|improve this answer
" c'est des " or " ce sont des " is 100% equivalent and acceptable. Though " Ces sont " is never seen and never to be seen. –  zmo Mar 13 '14 at 12:13
@zmo C'est des is actually grammatically incorrect. The proper way is Ce sont. –  Sifu Jul 25 '14 at 19:24
@Sifu "C'est des" is not grammatically incorrect. One might even argue "Ce sont" is dubious as "Ce" is singular so shouldn't be followed by a plural. There are well known cases where "Ce sont" is not idiomatic, like "C'est dix Euros" (not "Ce sont dix Euros") or "C'est nous !" (not "Ce sont nous!"). –  jlliagre Jul 25 '14 at 21:07
@Sifu you're actually wrong, I had an argument with a friend a few years ago, that end up checking in a grammar book… And result was that both are right. As far as I remember, the reason being that the object pointed by "ce" being unknown before according the verb, when the object is plural, the subject can be considered either singular or plurar. So in the end, it's what jlliagre says, the "c'est" being idiomatic. –  zmo Jul 25 '14 at 21:47

"Ce sont des enfants" is of course is right and not "Ces sont des enfants" as the right form of the "tour présentatif." But I would suggest that "ils sont des enfants" can also be right in situations where there is a clear antecedent.

share|improve this answer
"Ils sont des enfants" is very non-idiomatic. You might say "Ils sont petits" or "ils sont encore jeunes" but "des" implies "ce". –  jlliagre Mar 13 '14 at 11:41
@jilliagre I'm wondering about this... what about "ils ont beau être des militaires, ils sont des enfants aussi."? In a phrase of this kind, I'm suggesting that the choice of "ce" or "ils"/"elles" depends on the grammatical context and desired emphasis, and that it's not really satisfactory to say "ils sont" is always wrong... –  mike rodent Jul 27 '14 at 18:23
@mikerodent "Ils sont des enfants aussi." sounds very odd. That should be "Ils sont aussi des enfants." but what is really idomatic is "Ils ont beau être (des) militaires, ce sont aussi des enfants." –  jlliagre Jul 29 '14 at 21:15

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.