Canadian English Reference

Categories: Jacob's Mind

In Canada we follow a modified version of English which includes a mix of spelling from both the United Kingdom and the United States. Most Canadians are unaware of the proper way to spell many words in Canadian English. This reference indicates some common mistakes:

The ‘U’

In Canadian English words which end in -or such as colour, neighbour, honour, and savour are spelled with a ‘u’ between the o and r. Most Canadians do spell these terms correctly, although some fail to do so.

‘R’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’

You’ve probably heard the time old saying “r before e, except after c” to remember how to properly spell words. You’ve probably have also heard that this supposed “rule” is in fact not true. In Canadian English however, this rule does hold. Words such as centre, metre, and fibre are spelled with the ‘r’ coming before the ‘e’. Some words such as meagre are supposed to be spelled ‘r’ before ‘e’ although most Canadians use ‘er’ (i.e. meager).

-se or -ce?

In Canadian English, for words such as defence, licence, and practice are spelt in the following manner:

  • When used as a noun such words should be spelt with a -ce ending. For example, the Department of National Defence is spelt with a -ce ending not a -se ending, as it is a noun.
  • When used as a verb such words are spelt with a -se ending. For example, the phrase “Make sure your pracise social distancing” is spelt with a -se ending versus a -ce ending since the word practice is a verb.

To summarize, spell these words with an -ce ending unless it is being used as a verb, which would be spelt with an -se ending. For example: “Don’t forget your driver’s licence when you go to do your drive test. How are they supposed to license you without it?” We used licence in the first part of the phrase since it is being used as a noun. In the second part we used license as the same word was being used as a verb.

The above excludes advice and advise as they are universal words with slightly different meanings.

-ize or -ise?

In Canadian English we prefer the -ize spelling for most words. For example, the term privatize is spelt with an -ize ending, whereas in British English it would be spelt with an -ise ending: privatise.

Double the consonant!

When adding a suffix (like -ed, -or, and -ing) Canadian English doubles the ‘l’ consonant even when it’s not being stressed. For example: “They cancelled school today since it was snowing like crazy”, “I was fuelling my car when I saw the accident happen”, and “I’m travelling to Ottawa next week” are all spelt with a double ‘l’ as cancel, fuel, and travel each received a suffix at the end.

In Canadian Engish however, you do not double a ‘t’ consonant. Balloted and profiting for example are spelled as such.

Canadian English does consider fueling and dueling as proper in conjunction with their double ‘l’ counterparts. However I prefer to standardize on the double ‘l’.

The leftovers

Some other unique spellings in Canadian English include:

  • Cheque which is spelled the British way, is used to refer to cheques used in banking or chequing accounts. The term check is never used in banking in Canada, it is instead used to refer to things like checkmarks or the process of checking something.
  • Tire which is spelled the American way in Canada refers to the rubber wheels on cars. In British English they use the term tyre instead.
  • Canadians refer to petroleum colloquially as gas not petrol as is common in the UK.
  • Canadians, like Americans, also like to have government departments use of <something> instead of for <something> which is common in the UK. For example, Ontario’s Department for Transport is called the Ministry of Transportation as would be common in America (although in the States they use departments in government, so it would be the Department of Transportation. We in Canada used to use departments at the provincial level however, in the 1960s/1970s many provinces switched to ministries as is common parts of Europe).
  • Canadians use the term washroom to refer to a bathroom, water closet, restroom, etc. It is a term unique to Canada which many American businesses emulate (although a few American companies, looking at you Costco, use restroom instead of washroom which is very weird here).
  • A toque is a winter hat or beanie. It’s rarely used in more urban Americanized parts of the country like Ontario. However, stubborn people like myself and those who live in rural Ontario still use the term toque.
  • A bunnyhug is a hoodie. This term is almost exclusively used in Saskatchewan. The rest of us think it’s weird but the rectangle province likes to confuse us.
  • Canadians usually refer to people as bud. For example: “you wanna go get some drinks there bud?” is a common phrase. Again, however, in urban Americanized Canada (like Toronto) people usually refer to each other colloquially as bro. The term bud is more common in rural Canada (and I’m not joking when I say that comedy videos like this are more akin to a documentary of the culture of rural Southwestern Ontario than a joke).
    • Also, don’t hate me but I sometimes talk like the people in that video. Gotta rep my rural roots I guess.
  • Toronto has slang unique to itself. Often referred to as “Toronto Slang” it includes words like garbage man (which refers to a trashy person) and tingz (which is things). Toronto slang is influenced by the immigrant communities of the city. Mainly from the large Jamaican community in Scarborough, which influenced Toronto’s slang with Jamaican Patois.

Supporting references:

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