Recently, I stumbled upon a sentence written by another French learner, in which the conjunction soit was used in a subject phrase to designate potential agents or topics. I am not going to include here the exact sentence that was written, but an example of such a sentence would be: Je crois que soit la ratatouille, soit le cassoulet est son plat préféré. This did not sound idiomatic to me (and I've seen confirmation from more than one native speaker), but I cannot explain why, even after doing some web searches.

I have never seen soit applied to a subject in this manner, i.e. as Reyedy stated in chat soit + nom. + soit + nom + verbe + [complément]. Not being a native speaker, it is entirely possible that this is simply a result of lack of sufficient exposure, but none of the examples that I can find on the internet use soit in such a fashion. The closest that I can find is Soit l'un, soit l'autre, ça m'est égal, but ça arguably replaces l'un ou l'autre as a subject there. I can also find a mention of soit in this article about conjunctions that may pose problems for subject-verb agreement, but the author provides no example of how it might be used.

Is there a particular restriction on using soit for subjects? I thought there might be, based on the above, but I can't find a discussion of this anywhere. Or is it theoretically possible but unidiomatic?

  • I should also note that the stress pattern for something like the example sentence sounds wrong to me. I am inclined to put a slight stress on each soit and the end of its unit, but, to greatly simplify, I am also inclined to stress the verb slightly in normal SVO order. A theoretical double stress sounds odd. But such an argument is not as helpful, given that my proficiency is not that high (especially when I do not get so much speaking practice).
    – Maroon
    Sep 30, 2020 at 17:56
  • It appears difficult to conceive that there should be a rule against this construction when the construction "Je crois que la ratatouille ou le cassoulet est son plat préféré." is entirely valid and expresses the same thing; the only difference is that the replacement is a little shorter. Why would there be especially something wrong with the locution "soit…soit"?
    – LPH
    Sep 30, 2020 at 21:20

2 Answers 2


There's no specific reason why “soit 〈nom〉 soit 〈nom〉” can't be used as a subject. There is a generic reason why it's somewhat rare in spoken French, which is that spoken French tends to avoid long subjects (we tend to use workarounds like “C'est 〈sujet long〉 qui 〈verbe〉” instead of “〈sujet long〉 〈verbe〉”). But that's all about the length and not the specific construction.

Here are a few examples from books. They're not stylistic effects, they're just as idiomatic as any other sentence.

… deux ou trois cents francs que, soit son père, soit sa mère, lui glissait dans la poche.   (Rochefort, Les aventures de ma vie, vol. 1 (1896))

en général, soit son père soit sa mère était en mission.   (Christy Jeffries, trad. Agnès Jaubert, Délicieux chantage (2019))

lorsque soit le chef soit le peuple manquèrent à cet aveu de leur dépendance   (R. P. Richard, Dictionnaire universel dogmatique, canonique, historique, géographique et chronologique … (1762))

The specific setence “?Je crois que soit la ratatouille, soit le cassoulet est son plat préféré” is somewhat unnatural, but not because of grammatical construction. Since “soit la ratatouille, soit le cassoulet” is the subject, the sentence is about this particular alternative between two dishes. It doesn't really make sense unless there's already a discussion of this specific alternative. Most likely, the sentence is a statement about a person's favorite dish, and therefore “son plat préféré” needs to be the subject: “son plat préféré est soit la ratatouille, soit le cassoulet”. Without the alternative, “le cassoulet est son plat préféré” works just as well as “son plat préféré est le cassoulet” because it's perfectly natural to make a statement about cassoulet, unlike a statement about either ratatouille or cassoulet.


According to LBU, 14th ed., § 236, the unaturalness felt is a matter of the length of the predicative syntagm; therefore there does not necessarily exist a rule concerning subjects articulated by means of the locution "soit…soit"; and the reason for this construction not sounding familiar would then be the combined effect of not finding this inversion for long predications and of the inherent difficulty and unnaturalness there is in conceiving this type of inversion. It would be avoided for the same reason et therefore it can't be found except rarely, when the writer stops acknowledging the more or less forbidding impression it engenders.

(LBU, § 236) Notons ici que l'inversion du sujet donne des effets assez peu naturels quand il est court et que le syntagme prédicatif est particulièrement long :
— [...] de sorte que, sans l'immigration, resterait à peu près à l'abandon LA TERRE (GlDE,ournal, 9 mai 1914).
— J'a i vu le mal que pouvait faire à la masse des hommes LA VÉRITÉ (R. ROLLAND, dans le Figaro litt., 7 févr. 1948).

Notice that this unnaturalness is not necessarily felt by confirmed writers (e.g., Gide, above). Notice also how shortening eliminates the problem, in this following sentence, for instance.

  • […] de sorte que, sans l'immigration, manquait LA TERRE

Addition to show that there is very probably no rule and the construction being rare causes subjective impressions; however the verb form should be plural

The following sentences are taken from LBU, § 441

  • On pourrait [...] imiter les auteurs, en des occasions où soit l'oreille, soit le caractère de l'expression y PORTERAIENT (LlTTRÉ, s. v. ce, 2°)
  • Mais soit la poésie, soit l'ironie, soit quelque illuminisme à la Swedenborg ONT alors tout sauvé (H. CLOUARD,dans les Nouv. litt., 25 juin 1953).
  • Soit l'Angleterre, soit la Hollande FURENT toujours assez fortes pour interdire aux Français l'accès d'Anvers (Ph. ERLANGER, Louis XIV, p. 645).

Règle générale. Lorsque le donneur d'accord est constitué d'éléments coordonnés, la règle générale est d'accorder avec l'ensemble des donneurs, c'est-à-dire que le receveur se met au pluriel même si chacun des éléments coordonnés est au singulier.

  • Les donneurs sont unis par « soit répété:

There is remark to take into account, though.

(LBU, § 449) REMARQUE Lorsque la coordination est marquée par « soit... soit...», l'accord avec l'ensemble des termes est fréquent : cf. § 441 . — Mais il arrive qu'il se fasse avec un seul (le dernier ?) :
— Soit le Pape, soit Venise METTRAIT sans grande peine la main sur Rimini (MONTHERL., Malatesta, 1,4).
— On pouvait se placer d'une telle façon que soit l'orchestre du Lido, soit celui du Casino, vous ÉTAIT ACCESSIBLE sans bourse délier (CARY, Promesse de l'aube, p. 164).
— Comp. avec Tantôt..., tantôt... : § 451.

Il faudrait donc écrire « Je crois que soit la ratatouille, soit le cassoulet est son plat préféré.

  • The extract here comes from a passage about inversion, and neither example uses the conjunction "soit." How does this have anything to do with the question? If you are trying to claim that this is in effect an inverted sentence, it is not clear and there needs to be an explanation of how that is the appropriate grammatical analysis.
    – Maroon
    Sep 30, 2020 at 20:42
  • @Maroon The sentence « Je crois que son plat préféré est soit la ratatouille soit le cassoulet." is correct although there is an inversion, and the meaning is the same; in fact that's what is preferred. Now the subject is "plat préféré". My argument is not relative to the locution but to the length of "soit la ratatouille soit le cassoulet". What it contains does not matter. Instead of verb-subject inversion there is a subject- predication inversion. Anyway, I suggest that as a possible explanation, as often rules do not exist. I think the principle can be generalized.
    – LPH
    Sep 30, 2020 at 21:04

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