Canadian English

set of varieties of the English language native to Canada

Canadian English is the type of English that is used by Canadians.[5] It is like American English in terms of vocabulary, but its grammar is like that of British English.[6]

Canadian English
Native speakers
19.4 million in Canada (2011 census)[1]
about 15 million, c. 7 million of which with French as the L1
Latin (English alphabet)
Unified English Braille[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Canadian English is generally taught in schools using British ways of spelling, such as colour, flavour, and so on. However, the word themselves are usually American, in part because Canadians watch a lot of American TV shows and listen to a lot of American pop music. Rarely, the British form of words may be replaced with American forms, such as plow, program, and so on.[6]

The main exception to this rule is terms related to cars and the auto industry. Because Canada's auto industry has always been dominated by American firms, Canadians use American words and spelling for such terms.[7] Canadians and Americans spell the outer rubber portion of a wheel as tire instead of tyre, put gasoline or gas in their vehicles instead of petrol, store items in the trunk instead of the boot, and may drive a truck instead of a lorry.

Canadian English is different from other forms of English in its spoken form also. The dialects vary from sounding overtly English to an indistinguishable form very similar to those spoken in the northern states.[6]

Variations in Canadian English


Academic work has identified distinct differences in the Canadian English spoken based on the characteristics of the speaker, including their age, region, and gender.

Extensive research conducted by Canadian linguist Sali Tagliamonte on the differences in Canadian English features used by younger and older generations of speakers has found substantial evidence of intergenerational lexical replacement.[8][9] Significant differences have been found in variant preferences among Canadian adolescents, adults, and elderly speakers. This change is speculated to have been influenced by the cultural impacts of widely accessible American literature and mass media.

  • In Ontario, variants of “strange” and “odd” (favoured by Canadians over 60 years old) are dramatically being replaced by “weird,” the preferred variant for ages 9 - 59, particularly 85% of adolescents.[8]
  • Usage of the Canadian “eh” is also dependent on the age of the speaker; despite its substantial use among older Canadians, usage among young Canadians is virtually non-existent.[10]
  • Features such as "will" or "have got to," which are common in older speakers, are being replaced by "going to" and "have to" in younger generations.[10]
  • "Very" is the dominant form for those over 60 years old, however has been replaced by "really" and "so" in younger speakers.[10]
  • "You know" is the most used speech tag for elderly Canadians, yet is the least common variant in younger speakers, who preferred "or something" or "and stuff".[10]



Charles Boberg's 2005 North American Regional Variety Survey found that English-speaking Canada encompasses 6 principal lexical regions:[11] Western Canada, Ontario, Montreal, New Brunswick - Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, each separated by a lexical boundary. Lexical boundary distinction is measured on the basis of “major isoglosses,” which occur when there is greater than a 50% difference in the frequency of a linguistic variant between regional boundaries; and mean net variation between the borders of neighbouring lexical regions.[11]

Montreal is found to be the most lexically distinct region. Its eastern border with New Brunswick contains the highest amount of mean net variation in Canada besides its own western border with Ontario, and involves over twice the amount of major isoglosses compared to any other border.[11]

  • Notable regional distinction was found in variants describing a “summer or vacation home, often by a lake or river”.[11][12] “Chalet” is used in Montreal, while Western Canadians prefer “cabin," and Ontario is split between Northwestern Ontario’s usage of “camp” and the South’s use of “cottage."


Lexical distinctions have also occurred on the basis of the speaker’s gender.[10] Females are generally more likely to adopt new expressions and Canadianisms more quickly, and are suspected to be leaders of linguistic change. Because of their rapid adoption of new linguistic features, they are less likely to maintain long-term usage of older expressions. Consequently, males tend to be less receptive to the adoption of new expressions, but are more likely to maintain stable use of expressions that they have already adopted.

  • With expressions referring to “God,” “gosh” and “golly” are preferred by women, while men favoured “geez” or “gee”.[9] Additionally, shifting preferences towards the use of “God” (in particular, “oh my God”), has risen above all other variants, regardless of gender.
  • In terms of discourse markers, female speakers tend to dominate usage of "like," "just," and "so" in almost every age group.[13]

The "Groundhog Day Loop"

Since the birth of Canadian English via the publication of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP-1) in 1967, the public awareness of this “distinct” [14] variety has been greatly dulled by several factors. In his article entitled ‘The Groundhog Day Loop in Canadian English’, Stefan Dollinger points to the bridging efforts of David Suzuki and Bob McDonald’s efforts in “improving the public knowledge of science” [15] and emphasizes that it is linguistic scholars in Canada “who are not only utterly and completely to blame for this situation” [15] but who should certainly follow in the footsteps of Suzuki and McDonald in their public outreach. Dollinger goes on to point out Canadian journalists are also stuck in “Groundhog Day loop” [15] whereby queries on the existence of Canadian English made decades ago are renewed, seemingly ignoring any evidence of resolution reported by other journalists.[16] Indeed a search for “Canadianisms”, “Canadian slang” and “Canadian English” demonstrates continuous mixed messages on the part of traditional media. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported on the second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles in two separate articles in 2017 [17] [18] (see also Canadian Television Network: Where did that come from, eh? New Dictionary traces ‘Canadianism by Jackie Dunham 2017[19]) and then printed an article in 2022 by Jackson Weaver entitled ‘Canada’s English Dictionary hasn’t been updated in almost 2 decades. What does that say about us?’.[20] These examples illustrate a complete lack of continuity of narrative on the part of legacy media in informing the public on issues of Canadian identity like language.

Academic and Public Collaboration

Fortunately, evidence can be found indicating that bridges are being made, through various media forms, to educate the public and disseminate knowledge on features of Canadian English. The best example of this bridging effort is from a 2018 article from entitled ‘This is How Canada Talks’ by Zack Gallinger and Arik Motskin. The article summarizes the results of a questionnaire survey, conducted by the authors in consultation (and oversight) with the esteemed Canadian linguist Charles Boberg, enquiring as to “the different ways Canadians speak”.[21] The survey was distributed via social media, elicited 9500 responses covering every province and territory and identified several “interesting linguistic subregions like Cape Breton, Labrador and the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland”.[21] The results of the survey provide an easy-to-read series of regional maps illustrating 19 regional Canadianisms (read vocabulary differences) and three regional maps based on pronunciation. According to the CBC News article ‘Lost in Translation: Study on Canadian slang draws strange dividing lines’ by Wallis Snowdon, “The resulting map went viral last week and spurred heated debate at office water coolers and online message boards across the country”.[22] This is precisely how academia can bridge the “linguistic chasm” as coined by Dollinger.[15]

Public Knowledge

Further encouraging evidence is contained in an article on entitled ‘55 Canadianism You May Not Know or Using Differently’ by the blogger Jules Sherred. Sherred presents 175 individuals with a survey “quizzing them on their knowledge of 82 Canadianisms”.[23] This cohort is then broken down into “104 Americans, 52 Canadians, and 19 people from the following Commonwealth countries: New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, England, and Wales”.[23] Each respondent is presented with a term, a definition and then asked to indicate their level of familiarity with the term if they used it. Sherred identifies that of the 82 Canadianisms, 42 were unfamiliar to Americans, 10 lead to “questionable results”,[23] “three were honourable mentions” (cite), 16 “familiar but not used” (cite) and 11 “familiar and used”. Although not technically bridging gaps from academic to the public domain, Sherred’s work provides insight into the understanding and use of Canadianisms at home and abroad and in so doing promotes awareness and dialogue on the topic.

There are many websites claiming to explain what a Canadianism is [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] but very few are as clear as Walter Avis when he states that: “a word, expression or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada”;[14] many of these are simply lists of terms. Others, like the online Canadian Encyclopedia and offer greater detail into the topic of Canadianisms but it is unclear how much influence they have on social awareness.[29][30] Clearly there is not only great need for better collaboration between scholars and media but also greater effort placed on public outreach and education.

  1. English (Canada) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. "History of Braille (UEB)". Braille Literacy Canada. 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  3. "English". IANA language subtag registry. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  4. "Canada". IANA language subtag registry. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  5. "Canadian English". Archived from the original on 2013-03-24. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Canadian English". Archived from the original on 2012-05-04. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  7. Oxford Press and Katherine Barber (2001). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Toronto, Ontario: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-541731-3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Tagliamonte, Sali A.; Brooke, Julian (2014-02-01). "A Weird (LANGUAGE) Tale: Variation and Change in the Adjectives of Strangeness". American Speech. 89 (1): 4–41. doi:10.1215/00031283-2726386. ISSN 0003-1283.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tagliamonte, Sali; Jankowski, Bridget (2019). "Golly, Gosh, and Oh My God! What North American Dialects can Tell Us about Swear Words". American Speech. 94 (2): 195–222. doi:10.1215/00031283-7251241. S2CID 150323403. Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Tagliamonte, Sali (2016). "" So cool, right? ": Canadian English Entering the 21st Century". Canadian Journal of Linguistics/Revue Canadienne de Linguistique. 51 (2–3): 309–331. doi:10.1017/S0008413100004126. ISSN 0008-4131. S2CID 143528477.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Boberg, Charles (2005-02-01). "The North American Regional Vocabulary Survey: New Variables and Methods in the Study of North American English". American Speech. 80 (1): 22–60. doi:10.1215/00031283-80-1-22. ISSN 0003-1283.
  12. Dollinger, Stefan; Fee, Margery (2017). "DCHP-2: The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, Second Edition". Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  13. Tagliamonte, Sali (2005). "So who? Like how? Just what?". Journal of Pragmatics. 37 (11): 1896–1915. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2005.02.017. ISSN 0378-2166.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Avis, Walter (1967). "Frontmatter of the 1967 paper edition". DCHP-1 Online. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Dollinger, Stephan (April 14, 2011). "The Groundhog Day Loop in Canadian English". Queen's University Strathy Language Unit. Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  16. Dollinger, Stefan (2019). Creating Canadian English: The Professor, the Mountaineer, and a National Variety of English. Padstow Cornwall: Cambridge University Press. pp. 221–222. ISBN 9781108596862.
  17. Snowdon, Wallis (April 5, 2017). "Tuque, chesterfield, eh: 'Canadianisms' dictionary delights wordsmiths". CBC News. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  18. The Homestretch (April 6, 2017). "'It's part of what makes people Canadian': Updated dictionary compiles 'Canadianisms'". CBC News. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  19. Dunham, Jackie (March 14, 2017). "Where did that come from, eh? New dictionary traces 'Canadianisms'". CTV News. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  20. Weaver, Jackson (January 2, 2022). "Canada's English dictionary hasn't been updated in almost 2 decades. What does that say about us?". CBC News. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Gallinger, Zack; Motskin, Arik (June 1, 2018). "This is How Canada Talks". The10and3. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  22. Snowdon, Wallis (September 6, 2017). "Lost in translation: Study on Canadian slang draws strange dividing lines". CBC News. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Sherred, Jules (December 12, 2013). "55 Canadianisms You May Not Know or Are Using Differently". GeedDad. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  24. Government of Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada (2019-12-06). "Canadianisms: Prairies – Writing Tips Plus – Writing Tools – Resources of the Language Portal of Canada –". Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  25. Esrock, Robin (January 7, 2014). "Canadianisms Americans Might Not Understand". The Great Canadian Bucket List. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  26. "A Guide To Canadianisms: Understanding The Different Words & Expressions Used In Canada". OKWrite. March 10, 2022. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  27. Trip, Culture (2016-03-05). "Canadian Slang Words You Need to Know". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  28. Shehori, Steven (March 7, 2022). "50 Canadian Slang Words Our American Friends Don't Understand". Slice. Retrieved April 12, 2023.
  29. "CANADIAN ENGLISH |". Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  30. Boberg, Charles (May 31, 2019). "Canadian English". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 12, 2023.