How to say ``it`` in French?

As you may have already come across, there are A LOT of ways to say it in French, where in English we just have the one word (mostly). You might be asking why it is like this. The reason is because it is such a versatile word, and it falls into several functions (demonstrative, possessive, object pronoun, subject). In this post, I will go over all of the different translation of it in French.

``It`` as a Subject

“It” referencing a specific noun

If it references a noun, then we can use il for masculine nouns and elle for feminine nouns.

Ton chien comment s’appelle-t-il ?

La radio, elle est trop forte.

“It” referencing everything else

In all other cases, where il and elle cannot be used, you can use ça, cela, ceci, c’est as the subject.

Mais c’est bizarre (ce = l’idée de quelque chose).

Non, cela ne m’intéresse pas (cela = la suggestion de quelque chose).

``It`` as an Object or Complement

“It” referencing a specific noun (unstressed)

If it references a specific noun, as a direct object, we use le, la, les, depending on the gender (masculine, feminine) and number (singular, plural) of the direct object.

Jacqueline mange la tarte au sucre avec moi. Donc nous la mangeons.

If it is an indirect object, where we would normally use lui (to/for him, to/for her) or leur (to/for them), we use y. Normally, y is used to mean here and there. However, y also means to/for it.

Corinne donne la lettre à la machine pour que tu ne doives pas l’y donner.

“It” referencing everything else (unstressed)

Le is used to refer to other parts of speech which are not a noun to express it. This neutral le is also used in some instances in French where in English we wouldn’t include it. The neutral le is used to refer to an idea or phrase.

Le garçon nous ment. Sa mère me l‘a dit.
The boy is lying to us. His mother told me so.

If the le represents yes or no, then we would use a different structure:

Fait-il chaud aujourd’hui ? Je crois que oui. / Je crois que non.
Is it warm today? I believe so. / I don’t believe so.

The neutral le can also refer to a previously mentioned infinitive verb.

Elle veut chanter. Il vaut mieux qu’elle chante parce que je ne le veux pas.
She wants to sing. It’s better that she sing because I don’t want to.

Finally, le is used to refer to a descriptive phrase with an adjective.

Mon amie m’a dit que je suis beau ; et je lui ai dit qu’elle l‘est aussi.
My friend told me that I am beautiful; and I said to her that she is too.

You’ll notice in the above example that le is not event present in the English example. Remember to include it in French as it will seem like your sentence is missing a word if you forget to use the neutral le.

“It” referencing anything (stressed)

The stressed equivalents of it when it is an object are ceci, cela, ça. While generally, these words are translated as this and that. There are certainly similarities in meaning in some instances of this, that, and it.

Est-ce que vous voulez aller au centre commercial ? Oui, j’aime ça (ça = la suggestion d’aller au centre commercial).

``It`` as a Possessive in ``its``

You are likely already familiar with the concept that son, sa, ses are used to say his and her. For example:

C’est son chemise.
That’s her shirt.

Ne touchez pas ses cartes.
Don’t touch his cards.

Son, sa, ses also mean its, such as in:

Le magasin a ses propres problèmes.
The store has its own problems.

Son seul avantage est la couleur.
Its only advantage is the colour.

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