I believe "c'est" is a contraction for "ce + est", but can it also be for "ça + est" ?


4 Answers 4


C'est can stand for both ce+est and ça+est. If you change the tense to future or make it negative, you can observe the difference:

  • Future
    • Ce sera dans le journal demain.
    • Ça sera dans le journal demain.
  • Negative form
    • Ce n'est pas compliqué.
    • Ça n'est pas compliqué.

While ça is a neutral pronoun which can be used with lots of verbs, ce can only attach to ÊTRE (or a modal with ÊTRE as its complement in standard French).

  • *Ce commence/marche/vient.¹
  • Ça commence/marche/vient.

On one hand the pronoun ce is very special and always looses its vowel before a form of ÊTRE starting with one. On the other hand, ça does not always lose its vowel and is a "regular" pronoun.

  • C'est simple. vs *Ce est simple.
  • Ç'aurait été simple. vs Ça aurait été simple.

¹ The * marks agrammatical sentences.


This is probably just an unimportant nuance better suited for a comment, but according to my interpretation of my copy of “Le Robert-Micro” (granted, a fairly old edition [1998]):

Ce, as a demonstrative pronoun, is written as ç’ (with a cedilla) in front of the forms of the verbs etre and avoir beginning with the letter “a”; and as c’ (sans cedille) in front of those beginning with the letter “e.”

To the extent that the above is still correct, it could be argued that when one encounters Ç'allait être (or any Ç’ + verb form of être/avoir beginning with an “a”), what one is actually seeing is the alternative contracted “spelling” of Ce and not the/a contraction of Ça.
(see above link to ‘Larousse Dictionaries’:
1) for the example of Ç'allait être;
2) for evidence that perhaps ‘Le Robert’ is still correct [at least in formal speech/writing]; and
3) for a discussion of how, in less formal speech and writing, the Ça is actually replacing Ç’ (as the alternative, more formal spelling/contraction of Ce in the “ce + A…= ç’A…” rule of spelling), with the implication being that it is not merely using the full spelling of Ça.)

Since your question specically involves “C’est” (i.e., “Ce + E = c’Est”), perhaps the above discussion is irrelevant, but I find it interesting that the entry for ça in my “Le Robert” (or the one for it in Larrouse ) does not address at all how to handle/write the abbreviation/contraction of that demonstrative pronoun.
In light of the great lengths that ‘Le Robert’ and ‘Larrouse’ went to remind us of how ce is contracted to ç’ with the addition of a cedilla being required in certain cases, the lack of a similar reminder to omit the cedilla when contracting “ça est” to “c’est” could imply that neither ‘Le Robert’ nor ‘Larrouse’ recognize “c’est” as a valid contraction of “ça est.”

In fact that same ‘Le Robert’ entry begins with language that could be interpreted as saying that ça itself is a truncated, or at least familiar way of saying/writing cela and/or ceci, which could lead one to ask the following as a companion/follow-up question to yours:
“Can c’est be a contraction for cela/ceci est?”

  • Papa, I'm confused here. The first point seems to be about the French writing system where c is read [k] when followed by a/o/u and read [s] when followed by i/e and the fact that ç is the alternate form used in front of a/o/u to note the [s] sound with a c letter. What does this have to do with c'est? Wouldn't it be silly to write ç'est or ca?
    – GAM PUB
    May 28, 2016 at 16:49
  • @GAMPUB I certainly agree that “ç'est” would be silly, & perhaps its obvious silliness (because it’s just basic French writing) could explain why neither 'Le Robert' nor 'Larousse' felt a need to mention how to contract “ça est”. But if the obvious silliness of “ç'est” does totally explain the absence in the entries for “ça” of a reminder that “ça est=c’est”, I wonder why any time or print was wasted on reminding us so carefully to contract “ce allait” as “ç’allait” instead of the equally silly “c’allait” in the entries for “ce”. (to be continued)
    – Papa Poule
    May 28, 2016 at 18:51
  • @GAMPUB (continued) I think it’s possible that with their respective “reminder” and “[usage] difficulties” comments, ‘Le Robert’ and ‘Larousse’ are going beyond a simple reiteration of a basic/obvious French writing rule and are saying/implying that “ç’allait” is a contraction for only “ce allait” (and not for “ça allait”) and I was basically just trying to extend this possibility to say that, at least theoretically, perhaps “c’est = ce est” (and not “ça est”). Thanks.
    – Papa Poule
    May 28, 2016 at 18:52
  • Well, I don't believe there is anything there but graphical niceties. What do you make of future and negation with ça?
    – GAM PUB
    May 28, 2016 at 19:01
  • @GAMPUB There are many tenses that I don’t know, but the only future use of “c’est” that I’m aware of that involves contracting the “ce” (& "ça" if I'm wrong) is where it’s used in the “futur antérieur” as in “ç’aura/ç’auront été,” which just puts me back in the position of wondering if the “graphical niceties” found in my sources are possibly more than that. Regarding negation, with the “ne” present, I can’t see where the issue of contraction would come into play. Maybe what you call “graphical niceties” re the contraction of "ce" is what I meant by “unimportant nuances’ in my 1st sentence!
    – Papa Poule
    May 28, 2016 at 21:30

I just read your comments and as you will notice english is not my birth language as I am french, so I may sound a bit weird sometimes but hopefully everyone understand.

First and most important I guess is what @Papa Poule ask at the end of his first post:
"Can c’est be a contraction for cela/ceci est?" Yes absolutely and nothing more (it is not correct to say/write "ça est" only "ceci/cela est" or "c'est" are correct). "ce" and "ça" are already contraction of "ceci/cela" so you don't contract ce/ça anymore and so there is No ç' at all.

By the way cedilla is added for words with letter a/o/u after the c when read [s] but you have to know how to pronounce the word correctly to know if the cedilla rule apply.
e.g.: "C'est Ça! Ça!" ≠ "C'est caca!" (sorry 4:00am I can't think of something nicer) First is read [s] (That's it! That!) and second is read [k] (That's poo!).

I hope it was clear enough to help you but french is far from easy, even for french people ahahah!


Hum actually, I'm French and we learnt at school that ''C'est'' actually is the contraction for ''Cela est''.

Because ''Ce est'' and ''Ça est'' is not correct in French, plus it sounds weird.

It's really the contraction for ''Cela (It) est (is)'', just like It is in English, when you contract it, it becomes it's since cela means it and well, est means is.

  • 4
    Don't blindly trust everything taught at school (or double check what was precisely taught). Ce might stand for ceci or cela but is nevertheless perfectly correct French. The parallel with English is loose, "it's" is the colloquial contraction of "it is" while c'est is the mandatory form of ce est just like l'avion is the mandatory form of le avion.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 12, 2017 at 8:27

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