Using Impersonal Expressions

Using French impersonal expressions
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Expressions impersonnelles

Grammatically, "impersonal" has nothing to do with feelings: it means invariable in regard to grammatical person. So impersonal expressions are those which use an impersonal subject: "it" in English, and il or ce in French. The meaning of the two French pronouns is identical in impersonal expressions, but ce is a bit informal and therefore more common when speaking, whereas il is more common in writing. Otherwise, they are interchangeable.*

Impersonal expressions are used in two types of constructions.

1) Il est / C’est + adjective + que + subordinate clause

In this construction, the only thing you need to worry about is whether the verb in the subordinate clause needs to be in the indicative or subjunctive.

Par exemple…

Il est évident que les fleurs sont artificielles.
C’est évident que les fleurs sont artificielles.
  It’s obvious that the flowers are fake.
Il est étonnant que tu aies raison.
C’est étonnant que tu aies raison.
  It’s amazing that you’re right.

2) Il est / C’est + adjective + preposition + infinitive

Il est and c’est are still interchangeable, but the preposition required – à or de – depends on whether il / ce is a real subject or a dummy subject.

When il or ce is a real subject, meaning that it refers to a previously mentioned noun, you need the preposition à.

Il est important à comprendre.
C’est important à comprendre.
  That’s important to understand.
(what you just said is important to understand)
Il est impossible à trouver.
C’est impossible à trouver.
  It’s impossible to find.
(the restaurant I just mentioned is impossible to find)

When il or ce is a dummy subject standing in for the verb that comes after, you need the preposition de.

Il est important d’étudier.
C’est important d’étudier.
  It’s important to study.
(Studying is important.)
Il est logique de craindre la mort.
C’est logique de craindre la mort.
  It’s logical to be afraid of death.
(Being afraid of death is logical.)

Page 1: Using impersonal expressions
Page 2: List of impersonal expressions

 * C’est and il est are interchangeable only in impersonal expressions. For other uses, see C’est vs il est.

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French impersonal expressions


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