In the following sentence:

Il est de formation classique.

The translation I found is He is classically trained., but I don't understand the grammatical structure of the sentence.

It is clear that il is a subject and est is a verb. And I think classique is an adjective that modifies formation (noun). But why is formation, which is a feminine noun, used in the form of de formation, not de la formation?

And also, why does the sentence mean trained in English? For me, It is the classical formation. sounds more natural...


5 Answers 5


"Être de [nom] [adjectif]" est dans ce cas-ci employé en remplacement de "Avoir un(e) [nom] [adjectif]". Dans chaque cas l'adjectif et le nom peuvent être inversés.

Il est de formation classique = Il a une formation classique

Il est de constitution faible = Il a une faible constitution

La phrase "It is the classical formation" n'a pas du tout le même sens, parlant de la formation en soi mais sans parler de la personne qui aurait reçu cette formation.

  • 1
    You mention that "Dans chaque cas l'adjectif et le nom peuvent être inversés," but only your second, "consitution/faible" example seems to illustrate this inversion. Is "Il a une classique formation" even possible? (It would sound weird to me, as opposed to "... faible construction," which does sound very natural to me.) Thanks.
    – Papa Poule
    Apr 11, 2019 at 19:09
  • Some constructions indeed sound weirder than others and are less idiomatic, but the inversion is anyway grammatically correct. Indeed "Il a une classique formation" is, also to me, in the first group while "Il a une faible constitution" is in the second and actually even sounds better (to me at least) than "Il a une constitution faible".
    – Laurent S.
    Apr 12, 2019 at 6:36

Il est de formation classique.

Cette phrase est composée

  • d'un sujet : Il
  • d'un verbe d'état : est
  • d'un groupe nominal prépositionnel : de formation classique

Dans cette phrase, le groupe nominal prépositionnel a une fonction d'attribut du sujet.

But why is formation, which is a feminine noun, used in the form of de formation, not de la formation?

Le déterminant peut être facultatif avec un attribut du sujet.

Il est de formation classique = Il a une formation classique

Laurent S.

Ces phrases ont presque la même signification. La première phrase met en valeur l'état du sujet. La seconde phrase met en valeur les qualités supposées du sujet.


I disagree with the translation you found, I would rather translate the following sentence:

Il est de formation classique.


He did a classic training.

  • 1
    This translation isn't idiomatic English and doesn't correspond to the original French.
    – Théophile
    Apr 11, 2019 at 20:14
  • 1
    @Théophile > I can't tell myself how idiomatic it is in English but for the "translation" part, it conveys the same meaning, or at least as a non-native speaker I understand it the same.
    – Laurent S.
    Apr 12, 2019 at 6:40
  • @LaurentS. To give a bit more detail: to say "he did a training" sounds like a single instance, as in a workshop, as opposed to a general education. Second, classic isn't quite the same as classical (although both are classique in French): classic means "standard", "typical", "predictable" (e.g., "a classic excuse"). If you look at Google's n-gram viewer you will see that "classical education" and "classical training" are the usual expressions for this reason. In short, to translate back into French: "Il a suivi une séance de formation typique."
    – Théophile
    Apr 12, 2019 at 15:40

He is of a delicate constitution.

This is admittedly a somewhat archaic construction, but you can see that of here plays the same functional role, and occurs at the same place in the construction, as de in French.

  • La question porte sur la structure grammaticale de « Il est de formation classique. » Je ne vois pas de relation entre la question et ta réponse.
    – Toto
    Aug 15, 2022 at 10:07

I think a better way to think of it in a more literal sense would be:

He is of a classical training

"De" is showing that he is from a classical origin here. The "from" is key to understanding the meaning.

  • I think that from is too literal. I'd say the construction is more like the of in "He is of the opinion that ...", which we could rephrase as "His opinion is ...". Similarly, "His training is classical".
    – Théophile
    Apr 11, 2019 at 20:20
  • @Théophile You're right, but I think it helps people learning French as a way to see why that rearrangement functions. Like "Je suis d'avis que"; in more formal registers of English, one sometimes hears "I am of the opinion that". That's just my way of thinking about/remembering what those mean.
    – user45266
    Apr 13, 2019 at 4:57

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