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Canada has its own political, cultural, historical, and geographical realities and has its own words to describe these realities. It has two official languages, English and French, but in the 2001 census 18% of the population reported having a mother tongue, other than one of the official languages, Chinese being the third most common mother tongue. Canadian English is spoken as a first or second language by over 25 million people. Most of the Canadians who speak French live in the province of Quebec although forty percent of the population of the province of New Brunswick is also francophone. Canada was founded as a union of British colonies, some of which had earlier been under French control. It is a federal dominion with ten provinces and three territories obtained its sovereignty from the United Kingdom in a process beginning in 1867. Canada defines itself as a bilingual and multicultural nation.

The English vocabulary used does not differ enormously from the vocabulary used in other parts of the world, but some words have different connotations in different English speaking countries. The bulk of the words used are common to all English speakers, but there are, a number of words that are peculiar to Canada. Canadian English spelling is a mixture of American, British , and unique Canadianisms. Canadian vocabulary is similar to American English, but with key differences and local variations. Generally speaking, there are no grammatical features that are distinctly Canadian. There are, however, slight differences between American English and British English, and since Canadians are influenced by both, Canadian English is a mixture of both American and British features. In general, Canadian pronunciation is almost identical to American pronunciation, but there are regional differences.

Distinctive Canadian Vocabulary

Canadian English includes words borrowed from other languages which do not appear in other varieties of English. The country's name comes from the Iroquoian word Kanata meaning "community". Most of these borrowed words refer to features in the flora, fauna, geography and topography. The native Aboriginal peoples, the British and French settlers, more recent arrivals and occupations in the different regions have all contributed to making Canadian English unique.

Allophone A resident of Quebec who speaks a first language other than English or French
Anglophone Someone who speaks English as a first language.
Biffy An outdoor toilet usually located over pit or a septic tank
Chesterfield A sofa, couch, or loveseat (also used in Northern California and Britain)
Click Slang for kilometre.
Concession road In southern Ontario and southern Quebec, one of a set of roads laid out by the colonial government as part of the distribution of land in standard lot sizes. The roads were laid out in squares as nearly as possible equal to 1,000 acres (that is, one and a quarter miles square). In Ontario, many roads are still called lines.
Eavestroughs Grooves or channels that attach to the underside of the roof of a house to collect rainwater. Known to Americans as a gutter
Francophone Someone who speaks French as a first language
Garburator A garbage disposal unit located beneath the drain of a kitchen sink.
Humidex A term referring to the combined effect of heat and humidity on temperature
Joe job A lower-class, low-paying job
Keener An enthusiastic student, not necessarily a positive term
Loonie or loony This is a colloquialism for Canada's dollar coin. The plural is loonies. The nickname comes from the loon on the coin.
Muskeg A sphagnum bog, an usually thick deposit of partially decayed vegetable matter of wet boreal regions
Off side From the hockey term offside, meaning that a player has raced too far ahead of the puck, this phrase is often used in Canada to mean someone is not on board.
On side Used frequently in Canada to mean that you're in agreement, this term may come from hockey, where players can be offside.
Parkade A parking garage
Pogey This is a mildly pejorative Canadian word for welfare or, occasionally, unemployment insurance.
Poutine A Canadian delicacy made of French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.
Pure laine From the French words for pure wool, this expression refers to French Canadians whose roots go back to colonial New France. It also connotes racial purity, and as such is mildly offensive.
Runners Running shoes; sneakers
Ski-Doo A brand name now used generically to refer to any snowmobile. Can also be used as a verb
Sniggler Someone who takes the parking spot you wanted, or who otherwise does something perfectly legitimate, but which nonetheless inconveniences or annoys you.
Sook or suck A crybaby. The adjective is sookie or suckie. Sook rhymes with hook. For some reason, you can get away with using sook in polite company, but never suck.
Toboggan A long flat-bottomed light sled, usually made of thin boards curved up at one end with low handrails at the sides.
Tuque A knit winter hat that covers the head and ears (rhymes with kook).
Utilidor Short for utility corridor , this term is used mostly in the Canadian North.

Other words have different meanings in Canada, the United States and Britain.

Examples include:

Canadian English
American English
British English
ABM ATM Cashpoint, cashdispenser
bachelor apartment efficiency bedsit
Billion - a thousand
Billion - a thousand
Billion - a million million
bus depot bus station coach station
Canadian bacon back bacon  
child benefit, baby bonus child tax benefit family allowance
coin laundry Laundromat launderette
depanneur convenience store corner shop
driver’s permit driver’s license driving licence
Elevator Elevator Lift
fire hall firehouse fire station
flat tire flat flat tyre, puncture
funeral chapel funeral home funeral parlour
gas gas petrol
main floor first floor ground floor
offence offense attack
phone, call (v) call phone
puckster hockey player ice hockey player
railways Railroads Railways
Revenue Canada,
Service, IRS
Inland Revenue
riding district constituency
Serviette Table napkin Serviette
statutory holiday legal holiday bank holiday
tap faucet tap
university college university
vacation vacation holiday
washroom ladies’ room, men’s
Ladies, Gents
Z - pronounced zed Z - pronounced zee Z - pronounced zed


In general, Canadian pronunciation is almost identical to American pronunciation, especially in Ontario. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Price Edward Island, there is a strong Scottish influence and in the Ottawa Valley there is an Irish influence. The pronunciation of people living near, or working with French-Canadians is greatly influenced by French and the island of Newfoundland has its own distinctive English dialect.

The most famous difference between Canadian and American pronunciation is the ou sound in words like house and out, which sound to American ears like hoose and oot. (Some say the words sound more like hoase and oat). Canadians also tend to pronounce cot the same as caught and collar the same as caller. Keen ears will hear a Canadian distinction in certain vowels: the i comes out differently in knife and in knives, in bite and in bide, and in price and in prizes. Many Canadians also will turn t sounds into d sounds, so the name of the capital sounds like "Oddawa."


The main difference between Canadian English and that of the US and Britain is the spelling. Canadian spelling combines British and American rules, but the rules for Canadian spelling are not clearly defined. There are regional variations, and differences of opinion exist among editors. The official Canadian spelling is that used in the Hansard transcripts of the Parliament of Canada. The government style guide says that editors should consult the Gage Canadian Dictionary and go with the word used first. Many Canadian editors use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004), and Editing Canadian English: The Essential Canadian Guide, 2nd ed. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000).

In 1984 the Freelance Editors' Association of Canada (now called the Editors' Association of Canada) surveyed publishers, academics, PR people, editors and writers about their spelling preferences to get a better idea of what was the more common use. Some of the results are summarized below:

WORDS WITH -OUR/-OR: 75% of the sample preferred the use of -our such as colour, rather than color and favourite rather than favorite.

WORDS ENDING IN -RE/-ER: 89% of the sample preferred -re endings such as centre and theatre.

WORDS ENDING IN -SE/-CE: 80% of the sample preferred -ce over -se in nouns such as defence, practice and pretence, but let -se stand when such words were used as verbs, such as to practise the piano lesson.

DIPTHONG: 75% used the diphthong (ae or oe) in such words as aesthetic,archaeology and manoeuvre.

WORDS ENDING IN -IZE/-ISE: Canadian editors rejected the British -ise endings, such as organise, preferring -ize endings.

DOUBLING FINAL CONSONANTS: Up to 90% liked the double L in such words as enroll, fulfill, install, marvelled, marvellous, signalled, skillful, traveller and woollen.


Dave VE7CNV's Truly Canadian Dictionary of Canadian Spelling

Cornerstone's Canadian English Page

Proper Treatment: Canadian vs American vs British

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