I've been pondering over the use of "c'est" in french as it seems that these two words are not always use in the same way as in my mother tongue nor as in english. Let me give you some exemples:

L'autre chose qu'il aime c'est faire la fête: The other thing that he likes is to party

Le truc c'est qu'il n'aime pas travailler: The thing is that he doesn't like to work

C’est la ville parfaite pour elle. Autre chose parfaite c'est Julien, son petit ami: It's the perfect city for her. Another perfect thing is Julien, her boyfriend.

My point is that a sentence that in english only requires an "is", in french sometimes seems to include "it's" (c'est). One explanation that I've been given before is that the use of "c'est" in the cases above is part of informal french and that changing them to "est" works juste fine and only gives the given sentences a somewhat more formal "touch". Is this correct?

Merci d'avance!


"C'est" and "est" are not interchangeable.
"C'est" is a contraction of "ce est" (which you would never say, by the way). Its literal translation is "it is." It has both a subject and a verb.

C’est la ville parfaite pour elle.
It is the perfect city for her.

"Le truc c'est qu'il n'aime pas travailler" should, strictly speaking, have a comma, like so: "Le truc, c'est qu'il n'aime pas travailler." "C' " is the subject of "est," not "le truc."
Same goes for "L'autre chose qu'il aime c'est faire la fête." It should be "L'autre chose qu'il aime, c'est faire la fête." If you were to translate it literally to English, it would sound really awkward, like "The other thing he likes, it's partying."

So, if you change the subject of the sentence to be "le truc" or "l'autre chose qu'il aime faire," you can use "est" instead of "c'est" ("Le truc est qu'il n'aime pas travailler", "L'autre chose qu'il aime est faire la fête"). But there needs to be a subject for the verb, which is why you couldn't do that for "C’est la ville parfaite pour elle." You would have to reword it to "La ville est parfaite pour elle."

Finally, you are correct, using "c'est" is less formal than using the subject directly with its verb.

I hope this helps!

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  • 4
    There are cases where c'est is almost unavoidable, regardless of formality, like the translation of "time is money": Le temps, c'est de l'argent. Here, ce is used to emphasize the subject. It possibly helps avoiding the confusion between est and et too. – jlliagre Sep 8 at 17:39

''C'est'' is what we call a présentatif in French grammar. Why? Because it grammatically introduces présente more often than not something or someone.

The French phrases ''c’est'' and ''il/elle est'' can be tricky because they are close grammatically but not interchangeable. * Which one to use depends less on meaning than it does on grammar.

For example…

J’aime ce tableau. Il est joli. I like this picture, it’s pretty. C’est un joli tableau. It’s a pretty picture.

Another important thing to remember is that "c'est" is neuter, which means it takes the masculine for by default. Assuming you're referring to something feminine but you decide to use it to convey generality.

I.g. Wow, c'est beau ! - Wow, it's beautiful! What is beautiful? Could be the river (which is feminine in FR), could be the lake (which is masculine in FR), but it isn't specified, so we use "c'" and therefore keeps its default masculine form.

If we modify the the action by a different verb, this can also happen, these context are colloquial however:


-As-tu rangé ta chambre ? (Did you clean your room?)

-Oui, maman, c'est fait ! (Yes, mom, it's done!)

Here we're not using the same verb, therefore the subject is elided, and can be replaced by "c'" instead of the more proper way keeping the action verb intact.


-As-tu rangé ta chambre ? (Did you clean your room?)

-Oui, maman, elle est rangé/je l'ai rangéE (Yes, mom, it is cleaned/I cleaned it)

Common trick for some cases: if it's followed by a determiner it's usually "c'est" if it's followed by an adjective, more often than not, it's "il/elle est"

C’est + determiner + noun (with or without an adjective)

C’est le docteur. That’s the doctor. C’est ma jeune sœur. She’s my younger sister. Ce sont nos voisins. Those are our neighbors. Ce sont des amis intimes. They’re close friends.

Il est + adjective:

Il est sympa. He’s nice. Elle est intelligente. She’s smart. Ils sont sages. They are wise. Elles sont belles. They are beautiful.

Here's a good website on the difference to further your understanding, if needed: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/cest-vs-il-est/

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