Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

English is not my first language; the little English I know is mostly from the USA.

I know some of the differences between British English (or just English?) and American English, and the same with Australian.

In general terms, could you explain to me, or list the most important differences (if any), between Canadian and American English?

share|improve this question
    
Does your question extend to pronunciation and accent? If yes, there is a little bit about about and other words with the ou diphthong... –  Eldroß Dec 10 '10 at 12:02
1  
@Eldros: that's a myth. Sorry to burst your bubble. :) –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 10 '10 at 14:14
1  
@Eldros: That seems to be more of a thing for the US/Canada border areas around the Great Lakes. So both countries get it, in my experience. –  bikeboy389 Dec 10 '10 at 14:17
4  
@Mr. Shiny: as per @ghoppe’s answer, it’s not a myth, it’s just widely misunderstood. There is a significant difference between some Canadian and most US pronunciations of about, South, and many similar words (“Canadian rising”); the myth part is just that aboot is a really terribly rendering of it :-) –  PLL Jan 11 '11 at 21:09
12  
Canadian English includes many terms such as "sorry", "I understand your point of view" and "we aren't planing to invade your country" which don't exist in American English –  mgb Oct 23 '11 at 18:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Spelling

Canadian English tends to combine aspects of American and British spelling. Here are some highlights:

  • Some nouns take -ice/-ence while matching verbs take -ise/ense. eg. practise / practice and license / licence
  • Canadians tend to use the British -our ending rather than -or in some words like colour, flavour, labour, neighbour.
  • Generally, words with Greek roots end in -ize while those with Latin roots end in -ise. eg. realize, paralyze. American English tends to standardize on -ize.
  • You draw money from the bank with a cheque not a check.
  • French derived words like theatre and centre tend to retain the -re ending. Although when used as a verb or in the sense of being "in the middle" it remains center.

Vocabulary

Canadian English uses generally the same vocabulary as American. There are a few regionalisms and quirks.

  • A multi-level parking facility is a parkade.
  • Poutine is delicious.
  • In winter, you want to wear a tuque to keep your head warm.
  • You wear runners on your feet, not sneakers.
  • Generally, you go to the washroom when nature calls. That term's generally been replaced by restroom in America and it's a public toilet or lavatory in Great Britain. In Canada, toilet is somewhat indelicate and avoided.
  • A pond in farmland is a slough. (Rhymes with brew.)
  • You book off work to go on holidays.
  • My favourite from where I live: it's not a hooded sweatshirt, it's a bunny-hug.

Pronunciation

Pronunciation has American and British influence. There is some regional variation, and for some words, Canadians vary between British and American patterns. There are many little quirks, here's a few:

  • The last letter of the alphabet is zed.
  • Borg are Canadian. Futile, fertile, fragile etc. usually rhyme with "tile".
  • Adult, composite -- accent is on the first syllable.
  • Roof and hoof rhyme with "goof".

What sets Canadian pronunciation apart the most is the phenomonon known as Canadian Rising. Certain diphthongs are "raised" before voiceless consonants (eg. f,k,p,s,t). While most Americans discern no difference between writer and rider, in Canada, the vowel sounds are distinctly different.

Canadian Rising causes the illusion of about sounding like "aboot" to American ears.

share|improve this answer
    
In my Canadian English Roof and hoof don't rhyme with each other. Roof rhymes with goof. And COMposite is a different word that comPOSite. The first means "made up of many things" and the second means "to put things together (as in computer animation)" –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 12 '11 at 14:48
2  
@Mr. Shiny There was a survey in Vancouver in 1978 which found three popular pronunciations of garage and 17 total pronunciation profiles. There's no doubt that Canadians pronounce many words differently and often switch between them. I think your pronunciations of composite don't make them different words, it's just similar to the way Americans say Department of DeFENCE and Football DEfence. Different contexts bring out different stress. –  ghoppe Jan 12 '11 at 16:12
3  
As someone who works with a Canadian, let me say that aboot "illusion" is pretty impressive. I see it performed several times a day, and am fooled every time. ;-) –  T.E.D. Jul 18 '11 at 12:31
1  
@ghoppe: "American English tends to standardize on -ise". You mean "-ize", right? –  CesarGon Oct 23 '11 at 16:03
2  
I would disagree: I think most Americans pronounce writer and rider differently. –  tchrist Jan 16 '13 at 8:49

This is a huge question. Canadian English has many differences from American English. But it also has many differences from British English.

  • Spelling tends to favour the British way, such as putting the U in favour.
  • Except for words that Americans end in -ize instead of ise; in that case Canadians often use -ize.
  • Much of the word choice is closer to American. We say truck and elevator, not lorry or lift.
  • Canadians drink a can of pop, not a can of soda.
  • The last letter of the alphabet is Zed, not Zee.

In general where there is a difference between American and British you can guess that half the time Canadian goes one way and half the other. Occasionally we go our own way.

share|improve this answer
7  
In the US, soda vs. pop vs. tonic vs. coke (lowercase and non-specific) is totally regional, so I wouldn't count that as a US/Canada variance--we can't decide ourselves what we call it. –  bikeboy389 Dec 9 '10 at 22:44
    
Here's a handy map to support @bikeboy389's point. –  RegDwigнt Dec 10 '10 at 12:33
    
@RegDwight: Fascinating! I guess we perceive that as an Americanism because of Hollywood. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 10 '10 at 14:13
    
Further to RegDwight's link, another resource right on topic: popvssoda.com –  micahwittman Dec 10 '10 at 19:05
    
@bikeboy389 - Just to back this up, here in Oklahoma I grew up saying pop, and was really confused the first time I heard an easterner say soda. For us "soda" is the unflavored carbonated water used in mixers. Why someone would want to drink that straight was beyond me. :-) –  T.E.D. Jul 18 '11 at 12:35

It is so tempting to say

Eh?

share|improve this answer
2  
What are you talking aboot? –  Jaime Soto Dec 10 '10 at 16:54
    
@Jaime: See the answer from @brilliant. –  Jonathan Leffler Dec 10 '10 at 17:00
    
actually, it's @ghoppe who posted that link to the debunking of "aboot". –  Marthaª Dec 10 '10 at 23:15
    
I've heard many Canadians use the expression "Ey?", whereas Americans use "Huh?" or "What?". –  FrankComputerAtYmailDotCom Sep 25 '12 at 3:22

Of the main branches of the English language, Canadian English is the closest relative to American English, which, given history, makes a lot of sense: In 1607 brave men got off the boat in what is now Virginia to form the first permanent colony in North America for England and not long after that there were forays into New England and the Maritimes. Thus the foundations of the two are bound in the settlers that came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, and Wales in the 17th century.

And then, after that, it gets tricky.

Canadian English obviously has more contact with Canadian French, itself the descendant of how people learned to parler français in the 1600s-1700s. Canadian French is the descendent of dialects and sociolects present in France before it was more standardized, which is why it has features more in common with a peasant from Poitou, Normandy, or Maine than modern bog standard French based on the Parisian dialect. When it mixes with an Anglophone substrate, weird things happen, like occasionally using French numbers for English street names, like in Quebec. When it goes in the other direction, not uncommon in Eastern Canada, the pronunciation sounds nothing like anywhere else in the world and if you want to know what this sounds like, go to Youtube and look up a boy who is trying on ballet clothes in Montreal. He is obviously bilingual but his speech sounds like what happens when you put the two dominant tongues together and threw them in a blender.Consider that he is only about nine or ten. A definite sign of evolution.

Canada was obviously more receptive to the Johnson dictionary than Webster's and to this day remains loyal to it. Bluntly the stubborn facts are that America voted itself off the island in 1776 and for a long time was disinterested in following certain trends in Europe: hence, we stil, like stubborn mules, stick to units of measurement that the British used in the 1750s for its navy and don't change to SI units unless we absolutely must lest mayhem result (scientific papers, medicine, international shipping, the army, border areas so we don't cause car crashes.) Canadian raising is a feature found in most of Canada but absent in large pockets of the US. The prairie provinces have a rounder o than their southern neighbors, like in the infamous word "hoser". Mary marry and merry are distinctly different words in all forms of Canadian English, but not in the Southeast US or some forms of black English.

share|improve this answer

protected by coleopterist Feb 19 '13 at 18:19

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.