velar stops

Canadian English

Canadian English (CanE, en-CA) is the variety of English used in Canada. More than 26 million Canadians (85% of the population) have some knowledge of English (2006 census). Approximately 17 million speak English as their native language. Outside of Quebec, 76% of Canadians speak English natively. The phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon for most of Canada are very similar to that of the Western and Midland regions of the United States. Given the similarities shared between Canadian English and American English, both are often grouped together as North American English. Canadian English also contains elements of British English in its vocabulary, as well as several distinctive Canadianisms. Canadian English spelling follows both American and British English spelling. In many areas, speech is influenced by French, and there are notable local variations. However, Canada has very little dialect diversity compared to the United States. The phonological system of western Canadian English is identical to that of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and the phonetics are very similar.


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

Canadian English is the product of four waves of immigration and settlement over a period of almost two centuries. The first large wave of permanent English-speaking settlement in Canada, and linguistically the most important, was the influx of British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, chiefly from the Mid-Atlantic States – as such, Canadian English is believed by some scholars to have derived from northern American English, and is nothing more than a variety of it. The second wave from Britain and Ireland was 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. Waves of immigration from around the globe peaking in 1910 and 1960 had a lesser influence, but they did make Canada a multicultural country, ready to accept linguistic change from around the world during the current period of globalization.

The languages of Aboriginal peoples in Canada started to influence European languages used in Canada even before widespread settlement took place, and the French of Lower Canada provided vocabulary to the English of Upper Canada.

Spelling and dictionaries

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 color or center, usually retain British spellings (colour, honour and centre), although American spellings are not uncommon. Also, while the United States uses the Anglo-French spelling defense (noun), Canada uses the British spelling defence. (Note that defensive is universal.) In other cases, Canadians and Americans differ from British spelling, such as in the case of nouns like tire and curb, which in British English are spelled tyre and kerb. Words such as realize and recognize are usually spelled with -ize rather than -ise. (The etymological convention that verbs derived from Greek roots are spelled with -ize and those from Latin with -ise is preserved in that practice.)

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 (e.g., truck instead of lorry, gasoline instead of petrol).

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 Further reading below.)

The first Canadian dictionaries of Canadian English were edited by Walter Spencer Avis and published by Gage Ltd. Toronto. The Beginner's Dictionary (1962), the Intermediate Dictionary (1964) and, finally, the Senior Dictionary (1967) were milestones in CanE lexicography. Many secondary schools in Canada use these dictionaries. The dictionaries have regularly been updated since: the Senior Dictionary was renamed Gage Canadian Dictionary and exists in what may be called its 5th edition from 1997. Gage was acquired by Thomson Nelson around 2003. Concise versions and paperback version are available.

In 1997, the ITP Nelson Dictionary of the Canadian English Language was another product, but has not been updated since.

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. Just as the older dictionaries it includes uniquely Canadian words and words borrowed from other languages, and surveyed spellings, such as whether colour or color was the most popular choice in common use. Paperback and concise versions (2005, 2006), with minor updates, are available.

The scholarly Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP) was first published in 1967 by Gage Ltd. It was a partner project of the Senior Dictionary (and appeared only a few weeks apart from each other). The DCHP can be considered the "Canadian OED", as it documents the historical development of CanE words that can be classified as "Canadianisms". It therefore includes words such as mukluk, Canuck, bluff and grow op, but does not list common core words such as desk, table or car. It is a specialist, scholarly dictionary, but is not without interest to the general public. After more than 40 years, a second edition has been commenced at UBC in Vancouver in 2006.

Throughout most of the 20th century, Canadian newspapers generally adopted American spellings e.g. color as opposed to the British-based colour. The use of such spellings was the long-standing practice of the The Canadian Press perhaps since that news agency's inception, but visibly the norm prior to World War II. The practice of dropping the letter u in such words was also considered a labour-saving technique during the early days of printing in which movable type was set manually. Canadian newspapers also received much of their international content from American press agencies, therefore it was much easier for editorial staff to leave the spellings from the wire services as provided. But reader complaints regarding the American spellings continued, given the widespread usage of the British variants in Canada which were particularly taught in the school systems. Eventually, Canadian newspapers adopted the British spelling variants such as -our endings, notably with the The Globe and Mail changing its spelling policy in October 1990. Other Canadian newspapers adopted similar changes later that decade, such as the Southam newspaper chain's conversion on 2 September 1998. The Toronto Star adopted this new spelling policy on 15 September 1997 after that publication's ombudsman discounted the issue earlier in 1997.

Phonemic incidence

The pronunciation of certain words has both American and British influence.

  • 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.
  • In the word adult, the emphasis is usually on the first syllable, as in Britain.
  • Canadians side with the British on the pronunciation of lieutenant /lɛfˈtɛnənt/, shone /ʃɒn/, lever /ˈlivər/, and several other words; been is pronounced by many speakers as /bin/ rather than /bɪn/; as in Southern England, either and neither are more commonly /ˈaɪðər/ and /ˈnaɪðər/, respectively.
  • Schedule can sometimes be /ˈʃɛdʒul/; process and progress are sometimes pronounced /ˈproʊsɛs/ and /ˈproʊɡrɛs/; leisure is often /ˈlɛʒər/, harassment is often /ˈhɛrəsmənt/.
  • Again and against are often pronounced /əˈgeɪn(st)/ rather than /əˈgɛn(st)/.
  • The stressed vowel of words such as borrow, sorry or tomorrow is /ɔr/ rather than /ɑr/.
  • Words such as fragile, fertile, and mobile are pronounced as /frædʒaɪl/, /fɜrtaɪl/, and /moʊbaɪl/. The pronunciation of fertile as /fɜrtl̩/ is also becoming somewhat common in Canada, even though /fɜrtaɪl/ remains dominant.
  • Words like semi, anti, and multi tend to be pronounced as /sɛmi/, /ænti/, and /mʌlti/ rather than /sɛmaɪ/, /æntaɪ/, and /mʌltaɪ/.
  • Loanwords that have a low central vowel in their language of origin, such as drama, llama, pasta, and pyjamas, tend to have /æ/ rather than /ɑ/ (which is the same as /ɒ/ due to the father-bother merger, see below); khaki is sometimes pronounced /kɑrki/, the preferred pronunciation of the Canadian Army during the Second World War.
  • The word premier "leader of a provincial or territorial government" is commonly pronounced /ˈprimjir/, with /ˈprɛmjɛr/ and /ˈprimjɛr/ being rare variants.
  • The herb and given masculine name basil is usually pronounced /ˈbæzəl/ rather than /ˈbeɪzəl/.
  • Many Canadians pronounce asphalt as "ash-falt" /ˈæʃfɒlt/. This pronunciation is also common in Australian English, but not in General American English or British English.
  • Milk may be pronounced /mɛlk/ by some speakers. Some Americans pronounce it that way as well.

Regional variation

Canada has very little dialect diversity compared to the United States. The provinces east of Ontario show the largest dialect diversity. Northern Canada is, according to Labov, a dialect region in formation, and a homogenous dialect has not yet formed. A very homogeneous dialect exists in Western and Central Canada, a situation that is similar to that of the Western United States. 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. This dialect forms a dialect continuum with the far Western United States, however it is sharply differentiated from the Inland Northern United States. This is a result of the relatively recent phenomenon known as the Northern cities vowel shift; see below.

Western and Central Dialect

As a variety of North American English, this variety is similar to most other forms of North American speech in being a rhotic accent, which is historically a significant marker in differentiating different English varieties.

Like General American, this variety possesses the merry-Mary-marry merger (except in Montreal, which tends towards a distinction between marry and merry), as well as the father-bother merger.

Canadian raising

Perhaps the most recognizable feature of CanE is Canadian raising. The diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ are "raised" before voiceless consonants, namely /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, and /f/. In these environments, /aɪ/ becomes [ʌɪ], while the raised allophone of /aʊ/ varies regionally: it is more fronted in Ontario (closer to [ɛʊ]) but more retracted in the West and the Maritimes (closer to [ʌʊ]). Canadian raising is found throughout Canada, including much of the Atlantic Provinces. It is the strongest in the Inland region, and is receding in younger speakers in Lower Mainland British Columbia, as well as certain parts of Ontario.

Because the nucleus of the diphthong is raised to a mid position, speakers of dialects that do not possess Canadian raising will hear that the diphthong sounds different, and will approximate it with the closest sound in their dialect, which is usually /o/. As a result, the Canadian pronunciation of about to American ears, may sound like "a boat", or sometimes even exaggerated to "a boot". This is more noticeable in Eastern Canada (with the exception of Newfoundland) and least so in Vancouver. However there is no region in Canada that pronounces it like [əbut] "a boot", although in parts of the Prairies and Nova Scotia it may be so retracted as to be very similar to "a boat".

Many Canadians, especially in parts of the Atlantic provinces, do not possess Canadian raising. In the U.S., this feature can be found in areas near the border such as the Upper Midwest, although it is much less common than in Canada; raising of /aɪ/ alone, however, is increasing in the U.S., and unlike raising of /aʊ/, is generally not noticed by people who do not have the raising.

Because of Canadian raising, many speakers are able to distinguish between words such as writer and rider--a feat otherwise impossible, because North American dialects turn intervocalic /t/ into an alveolar flap. Thus writer and rider are distinguished solely by their vowels, even though the distinction between their consonants has since been lost. Speakers who do not have raising cannot distinguish between these two words.

The low-back merger and the Canadian Shift

Almost all Canadians have the cot-caught merger, which also occurs in the Western U.S. Speakers do not distinguish /ɔ/ (as in caught) and /ɑ/ (as in cot), which are merged in low back position. The merger causes speakers not only to produce these vowels identically, but also fail to hear the difference when speakers who preserve the distinction (e.g. speakers of Conservative General American and Inland Northern American English) pronounce these vowels. This merger has existed in Canada for several generations.

This merger creates a hole in the short vowel sub-system and triggers a sound change known as the Canadian Shift, which involves the front lax vowels . The /æ/ of bat is lowered and retracted in the direction of [a] (except in some environments, see below). Indeed, /æ/ is backer in this variety than almost all other North American dialects; the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver and is more advanced for Ontarians and women than for people from the Prairies or Atlantic Canada and men. Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ may be lowered (in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ]) and/or retracted; studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift. For example, Labov et al. (2006) noted a backward and downward movement of /ɛ/ in apparent time in all of Canada except the Atlantic Provinces, but no movement of /ɪ/ was detected.

Therefore, in Canadian English, the short-a and the short-o are shifted in opposite directions to that of the Northern Cities shift, found across the border in the Inland Northern U.S., which is causing these two dialects to diverge: the Canadian short-a is very similar in quality to the Inland Northern short-o; for example, the production [maːp] would be recognized as map in Canada, but mop in the Inland North.

Other features

Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as /oʊ/ (as in boat) and /eɪ/ (as in bait) have qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers especially in the Inland region. Like the Northern U.S., /oʊ/ and /aʊ/ are conservative--they are pronounced back and rounded. However, /u/ is fronted after coronals. /u/ is becoming more fronted in recent generations. This fronting is led by women, and is strongest in Ontario and British Columbia.

Unlike most varieties of North American English, in this dialect /æ/ is raised more before velar stops rather than before /d/. For example, bag has a vowel that is similar to the vowel in beg. Before nasals, /æ/ is usually raised, but to a lesser degree than in most of the U.S.

Some older speakers still maintain a distinction between whale and wail, and do and dew.

The first element of /ɑr/ (as in car) tends to be raised to at least lower-mid position.

British Columbia

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. In the Yukon, cheechako is used for newcomers or greenhorns. A study shows that people from Vancouver exhibit more vowel retraction of /æ/ before nasals than people from Toronto, and this retraction may become a regional marker of West Coast English.

Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta)

A strong Canadian raising exists in the prairie regions together with certain older usages such as chesterfield and front room also associated with the Maritimes. Aboriginal Canadians are a larger and more conspicuous population in prairie cities than elsewhere in the country and certain elements of aboriginal speech in English are sometimes to be heard. Similarly, the linguistic legacy, mostly intonation but also speech patterns and syntax, of the Scandinavian, Slavic and German settlers who are far more numerous and historically important in the Prairies than in Ontario or the Maritimes can be heard in the general milieu. Again, the large Métis population in Saskatchewan and Manitoba also carries with it certain linguistic traits inherited from French, Aboriginal and Celtic forebears. Some terms are derived from immigrant groups or are just local inventions:

  • shinny - elsewhere ball hockey or street hockey
  • slough - pond
  • pot hole - usually a deeper slough; also used to refer to slough in plural, sloughs is never used, while pot holes is. Pot hole also refers to a hole in a paved road caused by the freezing and thawing cycle.
  • ginch/gonch/gitch/gotch - underpants, usually male
  • bluff (small group of trees isolated by prairie)
  • bunny hug - elsewhere hoodie or hooded sweat shirt.

In farming communities with substantial Ukrainian, German, or Mennonite populations, accents and sentence structure influenced by these languages is common.


Ottawa Valley

The area to the north and west of Ottawa is heavily influenced by original Scottish, Irish, and German settlers, with many French loanwords. This is frequently referred to as the Valley Accent. This dialect is heavy with slang phrases and terminology.


Although only 1.5% of Torontonians speak French, about 56.2% are native speakers of English, according the the 2006 Census. As a result Toronto shows a more variable speech pattern. Although 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. These terms originate mainly from various European, Asian, and African words. Among youths in ethnically diverse areas, a large number of words borrowed from Jamaican Patois can be heard, owing to the large number of Jamaican immigrants in Toronto.


  • Many people in Montreal distinguish between the words marry and merry.
  • 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, most Anglophones do pronounce final Ds, as in Bernard and Bouchard.
  • In the city of Montreal, especially in some of the western suburbs like Cote-St-Luc, Hampstead or Westmount, there is a strong Jewish influence in the English spoken in these areas. A large wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union before and after World War II is also evident today. Their English has a strong Yiddish influence; there are some similarities to English spoken in New York. Italians and Greeks living in Montreal have also adopted English and therefore have their own dialect.
  • Words used mainly in Quebec and especially in Montreal are: stage for "apprenticeship or internship", copybook for a notebook, dépanneur or dep for a convenience store, and guichet for an ABM/ATM.
  • It is also common for Anglophones to use translated French words instead of common English equivalents, such as "Open" and "Close" for "On" and "Off", e.g. "Open the lights, please" for "Turn on the lights, please"


Many in the 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. The phonology of Maritimer English has some unique features:

  • Pre-consonantal /r/ is sometimes deleted.
  • 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. Therefore, battery is pronounced as [ˈbætɹi] instead of [ˈbæɾ(ə)ɹi].
  • Especially among the older generation, /w/ and /ʍ/ are not merged; that is, the beginning sound of why, white, and which is different from that of witch, with, wear.
  • Like most varieties of CanE, Maritimer English contains Canadian raising.


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. A few speakers have a transitional pin-pen merger.


  • When writing, Canadians will start a sentence with As well, in the sense of "in addition"; this construction is a Canadianism.
  • Canadian and British English share idioms like in hospital and to university, while in American English the definite article is mandatory; to/in the hospital is also common in Canadian speech.


Where CanE shares vocabulary with other English dialects, it tends to share most with American English; many terms in standard CanE 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 CanE 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.


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 CEGEP in Quebec. In Canada, 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 or context clarifies the specific level of post-secondary education that is meant.

Canadian universities publish calendars or schedules, not catalogs as in the U.S.. Students write or sometimes take exams, they rarely 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.

Successive years of school are often, if not usually, referred to as grade one, grade two, and so on. In Quebec English, however, the speaker will often say primary one, primary two, (a direct translation from the French), and so on. (Compare American first grade, second grade, sporadically found in Canada, and British Year 1, Year 2.) In the U.S., the four years of high school are termed the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years (terms also used for college years); in Canada, these are simply grades 9 through 12. As for higher education, only the term freshman (usually reduced to frosh) has some currency in Canada. The American usages "sophomore", "junior" and "senior" are not used in Canadian university terminology, or in speech. The specific high-school grades and university years are therefore stated and individualized; for example, the grade 12s failed to graduate; John is in his second year at McMaster. The "first year", "third year" designation also applies to Canadian law school students, as opposed to the common American usage of "1L", "2L" and "3L."

Canadian students use the term marks (more common in England) or grades to refer to their results; usage is very mixed.

Units of measurement

Use of metric units is more widespread in Canada than in the U.S. as a result of the national adoption of the Metric System during the late 1970s by the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Official measurements are given in metric, including highway speeds and distances, fuel volume and consumption, and weather measurements (with temperatures in degrees Celsius). However, it is not uncommon for Canadians to use British imperial units such as pounds, feet, and inches to measure their bodies. Older generations are more likely to use miles for distances. The term klicks is sometimes used interchangeably with kilometres because both the demotic and metric (with the first syllable stressed) pronunciations are widespread. Both metric and Imperial measures for cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons are used in cooking, as well as degrees Fahrenheit in baking.


  • Although Canadian lexicon features both railway and railroad, railway is the usual term, at least in naming (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).
  • A two-way ticket can be either a round-trip (American term) or a return (British term).
  • The terms highway (e.g. Trans-Canada Highway), expressway (Central Canada, as in the Gardiner Expressway) and freeway (Sherwood Park Freeway, Edmonton) are often used to describe various high speed roads with varying levels of access control. Generally, but not exclusively, highway refers to a provincially funded road. Often such roads will be numbered. Similar to the US, the terms expressway and freeway are often used interchangeably to refer to divided highways with access only at grade-separated interchanges (e.g. a 400-Series Highway in Ontario). However, expressway may also refer to a road that has control of access but has at-grade junctions, railway crossings (e.g. the Harbour Expressway in Thunder Bay.) Sometimes the term Parkway is also used (e.g. the Hanlon Parkway in Guelph, Ontario.) Quebec speakers may call freeways and expressways autoroutes. In Alberta, the generic Trail is often used to describe a freeway, expressway or major urban street (e.g. Deerfoot Trail, Macleod Trail or Crowchild Trail in Calgary, Yellowhead Trail in Edmonton). The British term motorway is not used. The American terms turnpike and tollway for a toll road are not common. The term throughway or thruway was used for first tolled limited-access highways (e.g. the Deas Island Throughway, now Highway 99, from Vancouver, BC, to Blaine, Washington, USA or the Saint John Throughway (Highway 1) in Saint John, NB), but this term is not common anymore.
  • A railway at-grade junction is a level crossing; the U.S. term grade crossing is rarely, if ever, used.
  • A railway or highway crossing overhead is an overpass or underpass, depending on which part of the crossing is referred to (the two are used more or less interchangably); the British term flyover is sometimes used in Ontario.


  • 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 more in use in Canada than elsewhere, including riding (as a general term for a parliamentary constituency or electoral district). The term reeve was at one time common for the equivalent of a mayor in a district municipality but is now in disuse.
  • The term Tory, used in Britain with a similar meaning, denotes a supporter of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, the historic federal or provincial Progressive Conservative party. The term Red Tory is also occasionally used. 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, or simply Loyalists.
  • Members of the Liberal Party of Canada or a provincial Liberal party are sometimes referred to as Grits.
  • Members of the New Democratic Party are sometimes referred to as (Knee) Dippers (from the party's initials NDP).
  • Members of the Bloc Québécois are sometimes referred to as Bloquistes. At the purely provincial level, members of Quebec's Parti Québécois are often referred to as Péquistes, and members of the Quebec provincial Action démocratique du Québec as Adéquistes.
  • The term "Socred" is no longer common due to its namesake party's decline, but referred to members of the Social Credit Party, and was particularly common in British Columbia.. It was not used for Social Credit members from Quebec, nor generally used for the federal caucus of that party; in both cases Creditiste, the French term, was used in English.


Lawyers in all parts of Canada, except Quebec, which has 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 both types of legal practice in contrast to other common-law jurisdictions such as England, Wales, and Ireland where the two are traditionally separated (i.e., Canada has a fused legal profession). The words lawyer and counsel (not counsellor) predominate in everyday contexts; the word attorney refers to any personal representative; a Canadian lawyer representing a client is an attorney-at-law.

The equivalent of an American district attorney, meaning the barrister representing the state in criminal proceedings, is called a crown attorney (in Ontario), crown counsel (in British Columbia), crown prosecutor or the crown, on account of Canada's status as a constitutional monarchy in which the Crown is the locus of state power.

The words advocate and notary – two distinct professions in Quebec civil law – 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.

Judges of Canada's superior courts (which exist at the provincial and territorial levels) are traditionally addressed as "My Lord" or "My Lady", like much of the Commonwealth, however there are some variances across certain jurisdictions, with some superior court judges preferring the titles "Mister Justice" or "Madam Justice" to "Lordship".

Judges of provincial or inferior courts are traditionally referred to in person as "Your Honour". Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada and of the federal-level courts prefer the use of "Mister/Madam (Chief) Justice". Justices of The Peace (equivalent to Supreme Court Justices in the United States) are addressed as "Your Worship". "Your Honour" is also the correct form of address for a Lieutenant Governor.

As in England, a serious crime is called an indictable offence, while a less-serious crime is called a summary offence. The older words felony and misdemeanour, which are still used in the United States, are not used in Canada's current Criminal Code (R.S.C. 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.

A county in British Columbia means only a regional jursidiction of the courts and justice system and is not otherwise connected to governance as with counties in other provinces and in the United States. The rough equivalent to "county" as used elsewhere is a "Regional District".


Distinctive Canadianisms are:

  • bachelor: bachelor apartment, an apartment all in a single room, with a small bathroom attached ("They have a bachelor for rent"). The usual American term is studio. In Montreal, this is known as a two- or one-and-a-half apartment, depending on whether it has a separate kitchen; some Canadians, especially in Prince Edward Island, call it a loft.
  • beer parlour: used as a synonym for pub; being replaced by "bar."
  • camp: in Northern Ontario, it refers to what is called a cottage in the rest of Ontario and a cabin in the West. It is also used, to a lesser extent, in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, as well as in parts of New England.
  • fire hall: fire station, firehouse.
  • height of land: a drainage divide. Originally American.
  • parkade: a parking garage, especially in the West.
  • washroom: the general term for what is normally named public toilet or lavatory in Britain. In the U.S. (where it originated) mostly replaced by restroom in the 20th century. Generally used only as a technical or commercial term outside of Canada. The word bathroom is also used.
  • rancherie: the residential area of an Indian Reserve, used in BC only.
  • Indian reserve. These are not "reservations" as they are in the U.S.A..
  • quiggly hole and/or quiggly: the depression in the ground left by a kekuli or pithouse. Groups of them are called "quiggly hole towns". Used in the BC Interior only.
  • gasbar: a filling station (gas station) with a central island, having pumps under a fixed concrete awning.

Daily life

Terms common in Canada, Britain, and Ireland but less frequent or nonexistent 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, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador, for a table napkin, though this is quickly being changed to the latter.
  • Tap, conspicuously more common than faucet in everyday usage.
  • Elastic for rubber band.

The following are more or less distinctively Canadian:

  • ABM, bank machine: synonymous with ATM (which is also used).
  • debit card: used in favor of Interac card or bank card.
  • chesterfield: originally British and internationally used (as in classic furnishing terminology) to refer to a sofa whose arms are the same height as the back, it is a term for any couch or sofa in Canada (and, to some extent, Northern California). Once a hallmark of CanE, chesterfield is now largely in decline among younger generations in the western and central regions. Couch is now the most common term; sofa is also used.
  • eavestroughs: rain gutters. Also used, especially in the past, in the Northern and Western U.S.; the first recorded usage is in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "The tails tapering down that way, serve to carry off the water, d'ye see. Same with cocked hats; the cocks form gable-end eave-troughs [sic], Flask.
  • garburator: (rhymes with carburetor) a garbage disposal.
  • hydro: a common synonym for electrical service (used primarily in Eastern Canada, Manitoba, and British Columbia). Many Canadian provincial electric companies generate power from hydroelectricity, and incorporate the term "Hydro" in their names. Usage: "I didn't pay my hydro bill so they shut off my lights." Hence hydrofield, a line of electricity transmission towers, usually in groups cutting across a city, and hydro lines/poles, electrical transmission lines/poles. These usages of hydro are also standard in the Australian state of Tasmania.

  • brown: used as a noun to refer to visible minorities, especially of South Asian origin. Often used by South Asians to refer to themselves. Usage: "Harmeet invited a lot of brown people" This is not considered particularly offensive, much like the usage of "black" in the United States.
  • loonie: the Canadian one-dollar coin; derived from the use of the common loon on the reverse. The toonie (less commonly spelled tooney, twooney, twoonie) is the two-dollar coin. Loonie is also used to refer to the Canadian currency, particularly when discussing the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar; neither loonie nor toonie can describe amounts of money (e.g. thirty dollars).
  • packsack: a backpack; more commonly heard in Northern Ontario.
  • pencil crayon: coloured pencil.
  • pogie or pogey: term referring to unemployment insurance, which is now officially called Employment Insurance in Canada. Derived from the use of pogey as a term for a poorhouse. Not used for welfare, in which case the term is "the dole", as in "he's on the dole".


The following are common in Canada, but not in the U.S. or the UK.

  • runners: running shoes, especially in Western Canada. Also used in Australian English and Irish English. Atlantic Canada prefers sneakers.
  • tuque: a knitted winter hat, often with a pompom on the crown. Sometimes spelled toque. (The same hat would be called a beanie in the western U.S. and a watch cap in the eastern U.S.)
  • bunny hug: a hooded sweater (hoodie). This term is uncommon outside of Saskatchewan.

Food and beverage

  • Most Canadians as well as Americans in the Northwest, North Central, Prairie 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 naming conventions).
  • What Americans call Canadian bacon is named back bacon or, if it is coated in cornmeal or ground peas, peameal bacon in Canada.
  • What most Americans call a candy bar is usually known as a chocolate bar (as in the UK, however, some in the US, especially older Americans in northern states, occasionally call it a chocolate bar).
  • What Americans call a corn dog is sometimes known as a pogo or pogo stick in Canada, in reference to the main brand of corn dogs.
  • Even though the word French fries is used by Canadians, some older speakers use the word chips (which is always used in fish and chips, as elsewhere).

The following are Canadianisms:

  • double-double: a cup of coffee with two creams and two sugars, most commonly associated with the Tim Hortons chain of coffee shops. By the same token, triple-triple.
  • mickey: a 375 mL (13 fl oz) bottle of hard liquor (called a pint in the Maritimes).
  • two-six, twenty-sixer, twixer: a 750 mL (26 fl oz) bottle of hard liquor (called a quart in the Maritimes).
  • Texas mickey: a 3 L (101 fl oz) bottle of hard liquor. (Despite the name, Texas mickeys are generally unavailable outside of Canada.)
  • two-four: a case of 24 beer (it is common in Canada for "beer" to represent both individual and multiple servings).
  • poutine: a snack of french fries topped with cheese curds and hot gravy.
  • Breakwich: A breakfast sandwich.

Informal speech

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 Australia) and, in the plural, for overshoes or galoshes (as it is in the U.S.). It is also used to refer to the tie-breaking match in a card game, especially in the Maritimes. 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 Australian use, as it is commonly used as a polite or childish euphemism for ruder words such as arse (commonly used in Atlantic Canada and among older people in Ontario and to the west) or ass, or mitiss (used in the Prairie Provinces, especially in northern and central Saskatchewan; probably originally a Cree loanword).

Similarly the word pissed can refer either to being drunk (as in Britain), or being mad or angry (as in the U.S.), though anger is often said as pissed off, while piss drunk or pissed up is said to describe inebriation (though piss drunk is sometimes also used in the US, especially in the northern states).

Canadian colloquialisms

One of the most distinctive Canadian phrases is the spoken interjection eh, which is stereotyped as being said by all Canadians in modern culture. The only usage of eh exclusive to Canada, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is for "ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed" as in, "It's four kilometres away, eh, so I have to go by bike." In that case, eh? is used to confirm the attention of the listener and to invite a supportive noise such as mm or oh or okay. Other uses of eh—for instance, in place of huh? or what? meaning "please repeat or say again"—are also found in parts of the British Isles and Australia. It is used across Canada, but less likely in southern British Columbia. This term in particular is also common in some border areas around the Great Lakes, in Maine, and in the Detroit metropolitan region.

The word hoser, used extensively in Bob and Doug McKenzie skits, refers to an uncouth, beer drinking man. A keener is someone who is keen or enthusiastic to do a task; in some contexts derogatory.

A Canuck is a Canadian and used by Canadians with pride; it is not a derogatory term. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries it tended to refer to French-Canadians only until it became adopted widely in English as a result of the Johnny Canuck comic book character. It is also the name for Vancouver's NHL team.

A Newf or Newfie is someone from Newfoundland and Labrador; sometimes considered derogatory.

In the Maritimes, a Caper is someone from Cape Breton, a Bluenoser is someone with a thick, usually southern Nova Scotia accent, while an Islander is someone from Prince Edward Island (the same term is used in BC for people from Vancouver Island).

Miscellaneous Canadianisms

  • The code appended to mail addresses (the equivalent of the British postcode and the American ZIP code) is called a postal code.
  • The term First Nations is often used in Canada to refer to what are called American Indians or Native Americans in the United States. This term does not include the Métis and Inuit in all regions, however; the term aboriginal peoples is preferred when all three groups are included.
  • While the act of "going camping" still refers to tenting at a designated outdoor campground or wilderness park, the term "going out to camp" may refer to the habitation of a summer cottage or building more-or-less built according to government code. In British Columbia, "camp" was used as a reference for certain company towns (e.g. Bridge River). Is is used in western Canada to refer to logging and mining camps such as Juskatla Camp. It is also is a synonym for a mining district; the latter occurs in names such as Camp McKinney and usages such as "Cariboo gold camp" and "Slocan mining camp" for the Cariboo goldfields and Slocan silver-galena mining district, respectively. A "cottage" in British Columbia is generally a small, even petite house, perhaps with an English design or flavour. The Ontarian usage of a sometimes-palatial "place on the lake" is unknown in BC, and rare in other parts of western Canada, other than when used by transplants from Eastern Canada. Similarly, "chalet" - originally a term for a small warming hut - can mean a veritable mansion, but refers to one located in a ski resort.
  • A stagette is a female bachelorette party (US) or hen party (UK); a stag and doe (or "buck and doe") is a joint male and female party prior to their wedding.
  • A wedding social is a pre-wedding fund-raiser for the bride and groom hosted by family and friends. Money is collected through admission, the sale of alcoholic beverages, and raffles or draws for various items. Originating in Manitoba, this term has become common throughout Northwestern Ontario (except in Thunder Bay, where it is known as a "shag") as well as parts of Saskatchewan (though it is less common in that province and may mean either "shag carpet" or to have sex with [profane]).
  • The humidex is a measurement used by meteorologists to reflect the combined effect of heat and humidity.
  • An expiry date is the term used for the date when a perishable product will go bad (similar to the UK Use by date). The term expiration date is more common in the United States (where expiry date is rarely if ever used).


See also

Further reading

  • Barber, Katherine, editor (2004). Canadian Oxford Dictionary, second edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-541816-6.
  • Barber, Katherine. " 11 Favourite Regionalisms Within Canada", in David Vallechinsky and Amy Wallace (2005). The Book of Lists, Canadian Edition. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-676-97720-2.
  • Boberg, Charles (2005). "The North American Regional Vocabulary Survey: Renewing the study of lexical variation in North American English." American Speech 80/1.
  • Boberg, Charles, Sounding Canadian from Coast to Coast: Regional accents in Canadian English, McGill University.
  • Courtney, Rosemary, et al., senior editors (1998). The Gage Canadian Dictionary, second edition. Toronto: Gage Learning Corp. ISBN 0-7715-7399-5.
  • Chambers, J.K. (1998). "Canadian English: 250 Years in the Making," in The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed., p. xi.
  • Clark, Joe (2008). Organizing Our Marvellous Neighbours: How to Feel Good About Canadian English (e-book). ISBN 978-0-9809525-0-6.
  • Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  • Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, editors (2006). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-2108-4.
  • Canadian Raising: O'Grady and Dobrovolsky, Contemporary Linguistic Analysis: An Introduction, 3rd ed., pp. 67-68.
  • Canadian English: Editors' Association of Canada, Editing Canadian English: The Essential Canadian Guide, 2nd ed. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000).
  • Canadian federal government style guide: Public Works and Government Services Canada, The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).
  • Canadian newspaper and magazine style guides:
  • Canadian usage: Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001).

External links

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