Canadian English

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages

Canadian English (CaE) is a variety of English used in Canada. More than 25 million Canadians (85 percent of the population) have some knowledge of English ( 2001 census ). Canadian English spelling can be described as a mixture of American English, British English, Quebec French, and unique Canadianisms. Canadian vocabulary is similar to American English, yet with key differences and local variations.


The term “Canadian English” is first attested in a speech by Rev. A. Constable Geikie in an address to the Canadian Institute in 1857. Geikie, a Scottish-born Canadian, reflected the Anglo-centric anti French attitude prevalent in Canada for the next hundred years when he referred to the language as “a corrupt dialect,” in comparison to the "proper" English spoken by immigrants from Britain.

Canadian English is the product of waves of settlers from Britain and France, and British and Irish immigration over a period of almost two centuries. It also is influenced in part by languages of the First Nations people, with some extra words from their languages being added into the vocabulary. The first large wave of permanent English-speaking settlement in Canada, and linguistically the most important, is from the original settlers from Britain, who claimed Canada as British territory. Another influence to the language was the influx of British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, chiefly from the middle Atlantic states. The last wave that greatly influenced the language, was from Britain and Ireland when people were encouraged to settle in Canada after the War of 1812 by the governors of Canada, who were worried about anti-English sentiment among its citizens. Also, to a lesser extent, the language was somewhat moreso influenced in pronounciation in the Maritimes to that of Hiberno English, due to the Irish Potato famine, which had massive emigration from Ireland to the Atlantic coast areas of Canada and The United States. Quite recently, people in Canada are preffering Americanized versions of some words, such as "Colour" being spelt as "Colour".

The aboriginal languages have added words to the Canadian English vocabulary, not found in other English dialects, (I.E. "Inuit") , and the French of Lower Canada provided vocabulary to the English of Upper Canada, which is why Canadian English contains words borrowed directly from French, not found in American or British English.

Pronounciation in the Maritime Provinces is nearly identical to that of Scottish and Irish English.


Canadian spelling of the English language combines British and American rules. Most notably, French-derived words that in American English end with -or and -er, such as colour or centre, usually retain British spellings (colour and centre), although American spellings are not uncommon. Also, while the U.S. uses the Anglo-French spelling defense (noun), Canada uses the British spelling defence. (The spelling defensive is universal, as is true for offence and offensive.) In other cases, Canadians and Americans stand at odds with British spelling such as in the case of nouns like tire and curb, which in British English are spelled tyre and kerb.

Like American English, Canadian English prefers -ize endings whenever British usage allows both -ise (the Cambridge model) and -ize spellings (the Oxford model) (e.g. realize, recognize). However, some of the technical parts of the Air section of Transport Canada, e.g., Air Policy , use a compromised Cambridge model; e.g., tires instead of tyres, but organisational rather than organizational.

Canadian spelling rules can be partly explained by Canada’s trade history. For instance, the British spelling of the word cheque probably relates to Canada’s once-important ties to British financial institutions. Canada’s automobile industry, on the other hand, has been dominated by American firms from its inception, explaining why Canadians use the American spelling of tire and American terminology for the parts of automobiles.

A contemporary reference for formal Canadian spelling is the spelling used for Hansard transcripts of the Parliament of Canada. Many Canadian editors, though, use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004), often along with the chapter on spelling in Editing Canadian English, and, where necessary (depending on context) one or more other references. (See the section “Further reading.”)


Although there is no single linguistic definition that includes Canada as a whole, a fairly homogenous dialect exists in Western and Central Canada. William Labov identifies an inland region that concentrates all of the defining features of the dialect centred on the Prairies, with periphery areas with more variable patterns including the metropolitan areas of Vancouver and Toronto. The Canadian Shift is found throughout Canada except for the Atlantic Provinces. Canadian raising has a wider range, and includes some parts of Atlantic, but many Canadians do not possess this feature, and defining the dialect by this would exclude parts of Atlantic Canada and include some adjacent portions of the US. Except for the Canadian Shift of the short front vowels, the phonology of the English spoken in Western and Central Canada is identical to that of the English spoken adjacent regions in the US. The Canadian Shift is not found in the US, except for a few speakers in the far West. The island of Newfoundland has its own distinctive dialect of English known as Newfoundland English (often referred to as ‘Newfie’) while many in the other Maritime provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island – have an accent that sounds more like Scottish English and, in some places, Irish English than General American. There is also some French influence in pronunciation for some English-speaking Canadians who live near, and especially work with, French-Canadians. Labov considers Northern Canada to be a dialect region in formation.

The following features distinguish Canadian English from a phonologically conservative Northern US accent:

  • Canadian Raising is found throughout Canada, including much of the Atlantic Provinces. The Canadian Shift is found throughout Canada except for the Atlantic Provinces. It is the strongest in the Inland region, and is receding in younger speakers in Lower Mainland BC, as well as certain parts of Ontario. Diphthongs are raised before voicless consonants.
  • Speakers do not distinguish between the open-mid back rounded vowel [ɔ] and open back unrounded vowel [ɑ].
  • In the Inland region, traditionally diphthongal vowels such as [oʊ] as in boat and [eɪ], as in bait, have acquired qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers. /o/ and /aU/ are pronounced back. /u/ is fronted after coronals.
  • /æ/ is tense before velar stops.
  • Words such as sorry, or tomorrow are realized as [-ɔr-], rather than [-ɑr-].
  • The /ɑ/ of foreign loan words is pronounced as /æ/
  • Been is usually pronounced /bin/ rather than /bɪn/.
  • Words such as borrow, sorry, and sorrow are generally pronounced with [-ɔr-], instead of with [-ɑr-].
  • The Canadian Shift is the defining feature of all of Canada except for the Atlantic Provinces. It is found in the Inland region, as well as the periphery areas as far West as Vancouver, and as far East as Montreal. It is a chain shift triggered by the cot-caught merger. The vowels in the words "cot" [kɒt] and "caught" [kɔt] merge to [kɒt]. The Canadian Shift then shifts both "cot" and "caught" towards [kɔt]. The /æ/ of bat is retracted to [a], the /ɛ/ of bet shifts to [æ], the /ɪ/ in bit then shifts to the [ɛ] in bet.
  • In Maritimer English pre-consonantal [ɹ] sounds are sometimes removed.
  • The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels, as well as pronouncing it as a glottal stop [ʔ], is less common in the Maritimes. So, battery is pronounced as [bætɹi] instead of with a glottal stop.
  • Words such as fragile, fertile, and mobile are pronounced as [fɹædʒajl̩], [fɝtajl̩], and [moʊbajl̩]. The pronunciation of fertile by some Americans as [fɝɾl̩] is also becoming very popular in Canada, even though the British pronunciation remains dominant.
  • In some varieties of American English, words like semi, anti, and multi are often pronounced as [sɛmaj], [æntaj], and [mʌltaj], whereas the British and speakers of General American English pronounce them as /sɛmi/, /ænti/, and so on. Canadians tend to prefer the British pronunciation of these words, though the other pronunciation of some Americans has made headway. Often, a Canadian will use the latter in general use, but the former in order to add emphasis.
  • lieutenant is pronounced [lɛf’tɛnənt] as in British English, though that pronunciation is not used in the British Royal Navy.
  • In Canada, the word premier, as meant to be the leader of a provincial or territorial government, has the common and accepted pronunciation [ˈpɹi.mjiɹ], with [ˈpɹɛ.mjɛɹ] and [ˈpɹi.mjɛɹ] as rare variants. Premiere, denoting a first performance, is pronounced the same in Canadian English as it is in comparable U.S. English dialects.
  • The herb and given masculine name basil is usually pronounced [’bæzəl].
  • Many Canadians pronounce asphalt as ash-falt [ˈæʃ.falt]. This pronunciation is also common in Australian English. It is not the pronunciation generally used in either General American English or British English, however can be heard among certain classes of speakers in Britain, and is recognised by Merriam-Webster's online dictionary (


Comparison of Canadian, British, and American lexicons

Where Canadian English shares vocabulary with other English dialects, it tends to share most with American English; many terms in standard Canadian English are, however, shared with Britain, but not with the majority of American speakers. In some cases the British and the American term coexist, to various extents; a classic example is holiday, often used interchangeably with vacation. In addition, the vocabulary of Canadian English also features words that are seldom (if ever) found elsewhere.

As a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Canada shares many items of institutional terminology with the countries of the former British Empire – e.g., constable, for a police officer of the lowest rank, and chartered accountant.


Canadian students add grade before their grade level, instead of after it as is the usual American practice. For example, a student in “10th grade” in the U.S. would be in “Grade 10” in Canada. (In the UK the order is as in Canada, but it would be for example “Year 10” rather than “Grade 10.” Quebec anglophones may instead say “sec 5” [secondary 5] for Grade 11.)

Most Canadian students receive marks rather than grades in school. (“What mark did you get on that exam?”) Students write exams, they do not take or sit them. Those who supervise students during an exam are generally called invigilators as in Britain, or sometimes proctors as in the U.S.; usage may depend on the region or even the individual institution.

Canadian universities publish calendars, not catalogs as in the U.S. The specific high-school grade (e.g. Grade 9 or Grade 12) or university year (e.g., first year, fourth year) is stated; these may be individualized (e.g., “The Grade 12s failed to graduate”; “John is a first year at Carleton”). The American terms sophomore, junior and senior are not widely used, although first year university students are sometimes known as freshmen or frosh. Some jurisdictions in the province of Manitoba currently use Senior 1-4 instead of Gr 9-12.

The term college, which refers to post-secondary education in general in the U.S., refers in Canada to either a post-secondary technical or vocational institution, or to one of the colleges that exist as federated schools within some Canadian universities. Most often, a “college” is a community college, not a university. It may also refer to a CÉGEP in Quebec. In Canada a “college student” might denote someone obtaining a diploma in business management while “university student” is the term for someone earning a bachelor’s degree. For that reason, “going to college” does not have the same meaning as “going to university,” unless the speaker clarifies the specific level of post-secondary education that is meant.

Units of measurement

Adoption of metric units is more advanced in Canada than in the U.S. due to governmental efforts during the Trudeau era. Official measurements are generally given in metric, including highway speeds and distances, fuel volume and consumption, and weather measurements. However, many Canadians often use Imperial units such as pounds, feet, and inches to measure their bodies; cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons in the kitchen; and miles for distances (less common). The term “klicks” is sometimes used interchangeably with kilometres.

The price of gasoline – the American English term is preferred over petrol – requires some awkward translation between Canadian and American figures. Even before the metrication efforts of the 1970s, the translation of “dollars per gallon” required not only replacing Canadian vs. American currencies but also a conversion between Imperial (4.546 L) vs. U.S. (3.785 L) gallons. It is common to express the rate of gas consumption as mileage, despite the typical notation of gas volumes in litres. Older residents may also use the unit “miles per Imperial gallon” (vs. miles per U.S. gallon) instead of the international “litres per 100 km.” A rare “kilometres per litre” is sometimes used as a substitute that can be viewed as “ metrified” but not strictly SI.


  • Although Canadian lexicon features both railway and railroad, railway is the usual term (witness Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway); most rail terminology in Canada, however, follows American usage (e.g., ties and cars rather than sleepers and wagons, although railway employees themselves say sleeper.)
  • A two-way ticket can be either a round-trip (American term) or a return (British term).


  • The term Tory, used in Britain with a similar meaning, denotes a supporter of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, the historic Progressive Conservative Party of Canada or a provincial Progressive Conservative party; the U.S. use of Tory to mean the Loyalists in the time of the American Revolution is unknown in Canada, where they are called United Empire Loyalists.
  • A Red Tory is someone who emphasizes the communitarian aspects of the conservative tradition, supports the welfare state and is skeptical of continentalism. Cf. the British term Wet Tory.
  • A Blue Tory is a conservative emphasizing free enterprise, free trade, low taxes and devolution of power to the provinces. Cf. the British term Dry Tory.
  • Grits refers to politicians representing the Liberal Party of Canada.
  • Dipper refers to members of the New Democratic Party and is more disparaging than colloquialisms like Grit.
  • To table a document in Canada is to present it (as in Britain), whereas in the U.S. it means to withdraw it from consideration.
  • Several political terms are uniquely Canadian, including riding (as a general term for a parliamentary constituency or electoral district).
  • A distinction is made between “ liberal,” which refers to a tradition of political thought advocating individual liberty and economic and social equality, and “Liberal,” which refers to the Liberal Party of Canada or a provincial Liberal party. This is the same as the distinction in American English between "democratic," describing representative government, and "Democratic," pertaining to the party that opposes the Republicans.


Lawyers in all parts of Canada, except Quebec with its own civil law system, are called “ barristers and solicitors” because any lawyer licensed in any of the common law provinces and territories is permitted to engage in two specific types of legal practice which are separated in other common-law jurisdictions such as England, Wales, Ireland, some Australian states, and Hong Kong. Yet the words lawyer or counsel (not counsellor) predominates in everyday contexts, though the American term attorney is sometimes encountered.

As in England, the equivalent of an American district attorney is called a crown attorney (in Ontario), crown counsel (in British Columbia), crown prosecutor or the crown.

The words advocate and notary – two distinct professions in civil law Quebec – are used to refer to that province’s equivalent of barrister and solicitor, respectively. In Canada’s common law provinces and territories, the word notary means strictly a notary public.

Within the Canadian legal community itself, the word solicitor is often used to refer to any Canadian lawyer in general (much like the way the word attorney is used in the United States to refer to any American lawyer in general). Despite the conceptual distinction between barrister and solicitor, Canadian court documents would contain a phrase such as “John Smith, solicitor for the Plaintiff” even though “John Smith” may well himself be the barrister who argues the case in court. In a letter introducing him/herself to an opposing lawyer, a Canadian lawyer normally writes something like “I am the solicitor for Mr. Tom Jones.”

The word litigator is also used by lawyers to refer to a fellow lawyer who specializes in lawsuits even though the more traditional word barrister is still employed to denote the same specialization.

The word attorney is ordinarily used in Canada to mean:

  • a person who has been granted power of attorney;
  • a lawyer who prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of the government, i.e. crown attorney;
  • an American lawyer with whom a Canadian lawyer is interacting regarding a cross-border transaction or legal case; or
  • an American lawyer who works in Canada and advises Canadian clients on issues of American law.

As in England, a serious crime is called an indictable offence, while a less-serious crime is called a summary offence. The older words felonies and misdemeanors, which are still used in the United States, are not used in Canada’s current Criminal Code (R.S., 1985, c. C-46 ) or by today’s Canadian legal system. As noted throughout the Criminal Code, a person accused of a crime is called the accused and not the defendant, a term used instead in civil lawsuits.

Household items

Terms common in Canada, Britain, and Ireland but not in the U.S. are:

  • Tin (as in “tin of tuna”) for can, especially among older speakers. Among younger speakers, “can” is more common, with “tin” referring to a can which is wider than it is tall.
  • Cutlery for silverware or flatware.
  • Serviette for a table napkin.
  • Tap, conspicuously more common than faucet in everyday usage.

Food and beverage

  • Most Canadians as well as Americans in the Northwest, North Central, and Inland North prefer pop over soda to refer to a carbonated beverage. (But neither term is dominant in British English; see further at Soft drink.)
  • What Americans call Canadian bacon is named back bacon or, commonly, peameal bacon in Canada.
  • What most Americans call a candy bar is usually known as a chocolate bar (as in the UK).


A rubber in the U.S. and Canada is slang for a condom; however, in Canada it is sometimes another term for eraser (as it is in the United Kingdom) and, in the plural, for overshoes or galoshes.

The terms booter and soaker refer to getting water in one’s shoe. The former is generally more common in the prairies, the latter in the rest of Canada.

The word bum can refer either to the buttocks (as in Britain), or, derogatorily, to a homeless person (as in the U.S.). However, the “buttocks” sense does not have the indecent character it retains in British and Australasian use, as it is commonly used as a polite or childish euphemism for ruder words such as butt, arse (commonly used in Atlantic Canada and among older people in Ontario and to the west), or ass (more idiomatic among younger people west of the Ottawa River).


  • The name of the letter Z is normally the Anglo-European (and French) zed; the American zee is not unknown in Canada, but it is often stigmatized.
  • When writing, Canadians will start a sentence with As well, in the sense of “in addition.”
  • The word hospital can be used either with (American usage) or without (British usage) an article after a preposition (e.g. to/in the hospital vs. to/in hospital). In writing, the article tends to be omitted (example ).

Words mainly used in Canadian English

Canadian English has words or expressions not found, or not widely used, in other variants of English. Additionally, like other dialects of English that exist in proximity to francophones, French loanwords have entered Canadian English.

Regional vocabularies


The dialect spoken in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, an autonomous dominion until March 31, 1949, is often considered the most distinctive Canadian dialect. Some Newfoundland English differs in vowel pronunciation, morphology, syntax, and preservation of archaic adverbal-intensifiers. The dialect can vary markedly from community to community, as well as from region to region, reflecting ethnic origin as well as a past in which there were few roads and many communities, and fishing villages in particular remained very isolated.

French influence on English spoken in Quebec

  • A person with English mother tongue and still speaking English as the first language is called an Anglophone. The corresponding term for a French speaker is Francophone and the corresponding term for a person who is neither Anglophone nor Francophone is Allophone. Anglophone and Francophone are used in New Brunswick, an officially bilingual province.
  • Quebec Anglophones generally pronounce French street names in Montreal as French words. Pie IX Boulevard is pronounced as in French («pi-neuf»), not as “pie nine.” On the other hand, Anglophones do pronounce final Ds, as in Bernard and Bouchard.

Chinook Jargon words in British Columbia and Yukon

British Columbia English has several words still in current use borrowed from the Chinook Jargon. Most famous and widely used of these terms are skookum and saltchuck.


The English spoken in Toronto has some similarities with the English in the Northern U.S. Slang terms used in Toronto are synonymous with those used in other major North American cities. There is also a heavy influx of slang terminology originating from Toronto’s many immigrant communities, of which the vast majority speak English only as a second or tertiary language. These terms originate mainly from various European, Asian, and African words.

Some Torontonians use buddy (without a capital) as it is often used in Newfoundland English – as equivalent to that man (I like buddy’s car). Some Torontonians pronounce the name of their city as the elided “Trana” or "Tronno" (often with nasal alveolar flap instead of N).


In 1998, Oxford University Press produced a Canadian English dictionary, after five years of lexicographical research, entitled The Oxford Canadian Dictionary. A second edition, retitled The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, was published in 2004. It listed uniquely Canadian words and words borrowed from other languages, and surveyed spellings, such as whether colour or colour was the most popular choice in common use.

Gage Learning Corp. published The Gage Canadian Dictionary in 1993, with “a major revision” in 1998.

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