Q: When is it better to use C’est instead of Il est in French?
C’est to present or introduce a noun
Imagine you are looking at a family picture. Someone points out someone in the picture.
-Who is that?
– Oh! C’est mon frère. / It’s my brother.
Here, C’ stands for “cela”, or This. It replaces “the person you are pointing” / “that thing you are talking about”, etc. You are introducing the subject, but you are not describing it.
J’ai une voiture. C’est une Mercedes. / I have a car. It’s a Mercedes
Macron? C’est le nouveau président. / Macron? It’s the new president.
C’est un livre de langues. / It’s a language book.
Now, let’s go back to our example.
-Oh it’s your brother?
-Oui. Il est policier. / Yes. He’s a police officer.
Now that the guy on the picture has been identified, you can start to describe your brother. He’s not a random stranger in a photo. “Il” (or Elle) can be used.
Oui, c’est ma voiture. Elle est très rapide. / Yes, it’s my car. It is really fast
C’est un livre de langue. Il est ennuyeux. / It’s a language book. It’s boring.
C’est +adjective to express an opinion about something in general
Back to our situation. You are still looking at the picture of your brother. The other person says:
-Il est très beau. / He’s very handsome.
Now this is not a general statement. It’s very specific to the guy on the picture. Moving on to later that day. You are talking about Indo-European languages to the same person, explaining a couple of things. Then, the person comments:
-Oh, c’est intéressant.
Now you don’t know for sure what it is, among all your brilliant explanations, that the person finds interesting, but in a general manner, he or she finds what you are saying interesting.
We often use C’est to talk about the weather or to express our feelings about a general concept. Note that the adjective following C’est is always masculine, since it describes C’ or Cela.
-C’est froid aujourd’hui… / It’s cold today.
-Le chocolat, c’est bon! (Here, you talk about chocolate in general. You could say “le chocolate est bon” to talk about a specific chocolate you would be eating or drinking at the moment).
-C’est important! / It’s important
-La soupe, c’est bon! / Soup (generally speaking) is good (note how “bon” is masculine)
-La France, c’est grand / France (generally speaking) is big.
Alors, c’est plus clair? 😉