I recently came across this spelling of "defense/ce" in a Canadian newspaper:

Canada is a close U.S. military ally and the top U.S. export market, more than the U.K., Japan and Germany combined. It sells the U.S. more steel and aluminum than anyone else, in part because of deeply integrated auto and defense sectors [emphasis added]."


According to all dictionaries I have looked at, defense is solely an American spelling, and the spelling defence is officially used in Canada.

My question is this: Are there any Canadians, or people familiar with Canadian English, that can comment on whether the defense spelling is also common in Canada, or whether this example is simply a one-off? I have so far been unable to find any sources that confirm any occasional use of the -se spelling of defense in Canadian English. I have a hunch that The Canadian Oxford Dictionary might have something to say on this, but I do not have access to it.

  • "Defense" seems to have a bit of usage in British sources; see RegDwigнt♦'s answer to the following question: “Defense” or “defence”. Of course, some of that might just be errors from bad spellers.
    – herisson
    Jun 2, 2018 at 17:18
  • Canadians use some BrE spellings and some AmE spelllings. You can search the CBC site: Canadian Broadcasting Channel. cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-2-2017-1.4093792/… d-e-f-e-n-c-e
    – Lambie
    Jun 2, 2018 at 17:22
  • You should search defence using site:.ca pm.gc.ca/eng/parliamentary-secretaries There is no versus. That is how they spell it.
    – Lambie
    Jun 2, 2018 at 17:23
  • 1
    You say defence is officially used in Canada, and when I do a site-specific search on canada.ca/en that gets me 44K hits. But there are 22K hits for defense, so it's obviously not a consistently applied principle (if indeed there is any "official" stance on spelling). Jun 2, 2018 at 17:42
  • I say for the meaning of defence as what a government provides with the military: this is the official Canadian government term: pm.gc.ca/eng/parliamentary-secretaries
    – Lambie
    Jun 2, 2018 at 17:52

3 Answers 3


I'm Canadian and work with Canadian editors.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.) often provides both British and American spellings of words. Sometimes the British spelling comes first, and other times it's the American spelling that comes first. (It's not actually true that we always prefer one over the other.)

In all cases, the one that's listed first is more common that the other—but both are "correct."

It's the house style of any particular publisher that determines what's used for their publications. Many Canadian publishers and companies decide that if a word has both British and American variations, it's the first variation that should be used. But it's not a universal decision—and it's only a matter of style, not of a single dictionary entry.

Defence is not the sole official spelling of the word in Canada—defense is also an official spelling in Canada.

However, it's the style choice of Canadian government publications to only use defence—which is something quite different.

From the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.):

de·fence/dɘ'fens/noun (also de·fense)

de·fence·man (noun) (pl -men) (esp. US de·fense·man)

Software that uses Canadian English dictionary rules should (and commonly does) mark both spellings as correct.

I suspect that the use of defense in the National Post was an unintentional typo. While still in the dictionary, it's likely that it goes against their house style and simply went unnoticed.

I should add that many people, in less formal settings, frequently do use the secondary spelling of many of these words as a matter of personal choice.

  • Terrific answer - thank you very much! An additional question: What spelling is used in the context of Canadian football (on TV broadcastings for example)? -se or -ce? One could imagine American influence being strong in that context.
    – user178452
    Jun 3, 2018 at 21:48
  • @user178452 I just checked out the CFL website and looked at a "random" blog post. It uses the "defence" spelling. Jun 3, 2018 at 22:06
  • Canadians writing for the global English-speaking audience are different from Canadians writing for a purely local audience. Defence and defense are both commonly used.
    – user205876
    Nov 20, 2021 at 1:18

Canadian newspapers, however, do have an official style guide: The Canadian Press Stylebook, supplemented by The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling. It says "defence (not defense), but defensive."

The editor insisting on c for nouns and s for verb forms is following CP style: "practice (n. or adj.), practise (v.)"

  • Of course, CPS style might not be so devotedly observed outside the press. And adjusting quotes of written material can become problematic. Especially in articles dealing with spelling differences. Aug 17, 2020 at 13:48

I know one Canadian editor who insists on the British c for nouns and insists s be used for verb forms. He’s silly, but he’s the boss. Either is fine with me, neither will confuse anyone. But consistency in any one work is advisable. As to ‘official’ spelling. There is no such thing in Canada! We have no academy to govern language, unlike France with French. And the French authority is widely ridiculed and ignored. Le hotdog still rules!

  • How can an editor hope to achieve the consistency you recommend without insisting on one or the other in their publications? Aug 17, 2020 at 13:45

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