I understand that "c'est" is used here because of the un which I guess makes it count as a modified noun, but I'm not clear whether there's any difference in meaning between these two phrasings when trying to express "He's a lawyer."

Il est avocat.
C'est un avocat.

  • 1
    The second one can also be used for the food: C'est un avocat vinaigrette. (But the first can't, as il can only mean a person, not a fruit)
    – njzk2
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 13:53
  • Il focuses more on the person himself and c'est is more about the topic, put within the context
    – xji
    Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 21:50
  • @njzk2 il est marron might be used for both the person and the fruit though.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 2:22

4 Answers 4


There can be a slight difference between the two sentences.

For example, answering a question about his profession, you would use il est:

— Quelle est sa profession ?
— Il est avocat.

But answering a question about who this person is, you would use c'est un:

— Qui est cette personne ?
— C'est un avocat.

  • That's the distinction I was looking for! Just waiting for other people's votes to weigh in to support this before accepting answer. Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 23:18
  • 8
    (+1) I would add that "Il est avocat" feels slightly more formal and cannot be used in the second example but "C'est un avocat" could fit both.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 9:41
  • 1
    @Relaxed I don't feel the "formal" difference. I think the difference is one is talking about the person, and one about his profession...
    – Random
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 12:21
  • @Random Maybe but many people would say “c'est” instead of “il est”, which is why maintaining the distinction is a mark of a slightly higher register.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 13:16
  • I can't believe this has been viewed nearly a thousand times the past couple days. Is this site more popular than it seems? Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 7:20

I think it is not a grammar thing. The answer depends on the context.The first is clear for the profession and the second is for the identity which is unique to distinguish the one from the others. "Qui" is referred to the someone. So I think it is a question to understand the context and has so little with the grammar.


Both phrases express exactly the same idea (He's a lawyer) using 2 different grammatical structures.

  • 1
    There is a slight difference. "Il est avocat": you are talking about his profession, whereas "c'est un avocat": you are talking about the person.
    – Random
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 12:20

I think it's the same grammar rule than english : it's and he's. "He's" will refer to someone, "it's" refer to everythink else non-human, like njzk2 explained.

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