Here's what I think I know:

C'est is used at the beginning of a sentence for what comes after is a noun, modified noun, proper noun, or stress pronoun. So basically I usually look for an article like un, une, le, la, and so on.

For il/elle est at the beginning of a sentence, you use it if what comes after it is an adjective.

So when I'm trying to describe an object, like a book. Would this description be correct?

C'est un livre. Il est orange, rouge, et bleu. C'est en papier. Il est assez grand. Il est rectangulaire. For this one I'm not sure whether it's “il est” or “c'est” because I think I heard someone say “c'est” before but rectangulaire is an adjective.

So my question is when describing a shape of an object, do you use “c'est” or “il/elle est”?

  • Your first example doesn't match your question: "C'est un livre" doesn't describe the shape of an object but names it.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 7, 2015 at 9:54
  • Sorry for the confusion. All the phrases are part of one description that are describing the book. I edited it to make it less confusing. I hope this clears everything up!
    – Angel
    Nov 8, 2015 at 2:30
  • I'm confused by the fact you accepted a reply stating "C'est un bus" to describe the shape of an object.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 8, 2015 at 8:02
  • I accepted the answer "C'est un bus" because while it did not describe the shape of an object, it did show how to use "c'est" correctly which is before a noun which means it's not used before an adjective which would be used to describe the shape of an object. Also, the answer does answer my original question because they said "Il est rectangulaire" is the right answer. So instead of using "c'est", il/elle est is used to describe the shape of an object. I believe "c'est un bus" was there just to clarify why one would not use "c'est" to describe an object's shape. Hope this clears it up! (:
    – Angel
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:35
  • "C'est" can be used before an adjective. "Un livre, c'est rectangulaire" is correct while "Un livre, il est rectangulaire" is doubtful.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 10, 2015 at 7:48

4 Answers 4

  • C'est un livre: correct (because of the article indéfini which is un)
  • Il est orange, rouge, et bleu: correct (because you are introducing an adjective)
  • C'est en papier: incorrect (because what you are talking about is undefined. It can be defined if you complete it with something like this: C'est en papier qu'est faite la poupée)
  • Il est assez grand: correct (for the same reason as explained via the second bullet point above)
  • Il est rectangulaire: correct (for the same reason as explained via the second bullet point: rectangulaire is an adjective)

So my question is when describing a shape of an object, do you use “c'est” or “il/elle est”?

You can use both c'est and il/elle est, depending on the context:

  1. C'est un bus: it is a bus
  2. Elle est grande: It is big (Elle replaces, for instance, maison meaning a house)

In example 2. we know what are we talking about (a house), so we can use Elle to refer to it.

In example 1. we are referring to a specific object.

  • Ok thank you! Also another question. Say I have a mug that's larger than an average mug. So if that's the case I would think you could say grande, but since big is too general of a term to describe it, would you say "assez grande?" to make it more relevant? I don't know if this question makes sense but that was what I was wondering.
    – Angel
    Nov 6, 2015 at 22:21
  • Something which is assez grand is smaller than something which is grand. You can rather express your idea by: Très grand
    – user6768
    Nov 7, 2015 at 4:49
  • Well, I would not be so sure about C'est en papier not being possible as is. You could start a riddle like this. See @jiliagre answer for a more relevant distinction about already refered to vs being introduced.
    – GAM PUB
    Nov 9, 2015 at 18:15
  • So should it be "Il est en papier" ? Nov 9, 2015 at 22:27
  • @Aerovistae The other member said C'est en papier is not correct: which thing I wrote clearly. Now if you refer to the phrase: C'est en papier qu'est faite la poupée then it is absolutely correct for the reason I explained above. I did not react to the other user (GAM PUB) because he has to read once again my answer.
    – user6768
    Nov 10, 2015 at 5:26

Il est rectangulaire is correct if it is clear you are talking about a specific book, C'est en papier is not unless you haven't already tell it is a book, or if you are talking about what is a book in general, i.e. not a specific book.

  • Ce livre, il est rectangulaire.
  • Un livre, c'est rectangulaire.

More generally, c'est is used when the object is not yet identified, for example when you are guessing what it could be or when you are telling a what an object is.

Il est or Elle est is used when you know what object it is, and then the gender you need to use for the following adjective.

To summarize, if the first sentence is C'est un livre, the rule is very simple: in the sentences following it, always use il est as livre is masculine and never c'est as ce is neutral here so can only refer to unnamed or generic objects.

  • I like the main argument of this but not the first line which seems misguided. How come you could not introduce something made of paper with C'est en papier?
    – GAM PUB
    Nov 9, 2015 at 18:16
  • @GAMPUB You just cannot write, "Il y a un livre dans ma bibliothèque. C'est en papier". I (perhaps not clearly enough) attempted to clarify that point in my last sentence.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:50
  • Yes. Precisely. This is why you can use the c'est while the referent is indefinite and not after...
    – GAM PUB
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:52
  • @GAMPUB first paragraph updated to clarify.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 9, 2015 at 22:00

C'est is followed by a self-contained description, normally a noun phrase. It can be used both for an object that's already been mentioned and for an object that is being introduced to the conversation.

C'est un livre.
C'est un roman.
C'est un objet rectangulaire.
C'est un objet en papier.
C'est son cadeau d'anniversaire.
C'est le plus beau livre que j'aie jamais lu.

Il est describes a characteristic of an object. Because il is a definite personal pronoun, the object is one that is already the topic of the conversation.

Il est orange, rouge et bleu.
Il est en papier.
Il est rectangulaire.
Il est passionnant.


For answering my question: you use il/elle est when describing an object because it's an adjective. So it would be like: C'est un stylo. Il est cylindrique.

  • "Un stylo, c'est cylindrique" is correct French.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:53
  • Ok! If it's not too much trouble, could you please explain why "un stylo, c'est cylindrique" is correct? Thank you~
    – Angel
    Nov 13, 2015 at 3:02
  • Because in that sentence, cylindrique applies to any stylo, not just a specific one.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 13, 2015 at 7:24

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