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. – sumelic Jun 2 '18 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 '18 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 '18 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). – FumbleFingers Jun 2 '18 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 '18 at 17:52

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 '18 at 21:48
  • @user178452 I just checked out the CFL website and looked at a "random" blog post. It uses the "defence" spelling. – Jason Bassford Jun 3 '18 at 22:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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