As a Canadian, I feel that our spelling tendencies—sometimes British, sometimes American—fit quite well with our geographic, historic and cultural placement between these two bigger countries.

I have enjoyed this question about differences between Canadian English and American and British English, especially the quite extensive answer given by user @ghoppe.

But @ghoppe's answer got me wondering why there are some quite consistent tendencies to American or to British spelling in Canadian English. For example, why do we tend to standardize on -ize endings rather than -ise? Why do we tend to favour -our endings rather than -or endings?

I took to the internet to find if there are historic reasons.

On this blog post I found the following comment by a reader:

the fact is, Canadian English was rapidly becoming American in the early 19th century, thanks to massive immigration into Canada from the States […]. Prominent Canadian cultural authorities intentionally re-established some British norms as standard, most notably -our and -re words, partly for patriotic reasons […].

That's a start, although it is not referenced. Wikipedia's page on Canadian English has another tantalizing little detail:

Canadian spelling conventions 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.[citation needed] 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 (hence, "Canadian Tire") and American terminology for the parts of automobiles (for example, truck instead of lorry, gasoline instead of petrol, trunk instead of boot).

As you can see, Wikipedia has determined a citation is needed on the first part (the second part comes from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary).

I'd love to know more than just these little details. Is there an article or book out there that lays out more comprehensively the whys of Canadian spelling?

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    Shouldn't that be Canadian spelling, eh? Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 13:22
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    @TimLymington yeah for sure on that, eh
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 15:08
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    -ize is preferred (by OED, at least) even in British English, though many BE-writers suffer from an over-reaction to a perceived americanism. Maybe some of the -our and other non-rationalized spellings reflect and preserve the French origins of some of the words...
    – DavidR
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 14:04
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    @FumbleFingers fascinating comment on the OED, one which I shan't forget. But as for "unanswerably unconstructive," I'd be more than happy for the question to sit here until someone happened along who actually could answer. Seems an odd reason to down vote, to me!
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 0:20
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    @FumbleFingers: My little 52-year-old Oxford School Dictionary doesn't even mention -ise as an alternative. Collins agrees that ize is preferred, as does John O E Clark's very useful Word Perfect (1987). I don't consider all these as a recent sop to US dominance, but am prepared to preserve the Greek origin of the suffix. Anyway, it's one of those perpetual religious wars that's not going to be solved here.
    – DavidR
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 12:10

2 Answers 2


I've done nothing but sit on my rear all day trying to find you an appropriate answer. I've only come across one article online that seems to collectively dictate anything and everything that I've being reading. It seems that Canada defines the majority of its culture upon its language (and spelling).

While I have to agree with Robin Michael that you'll never really find yourself with a simple answer, I do hope this article may shed some more light.

According to him, the Canadian language, the culture, is being slowly diminished by your friendly neighbors to the south of you. (Hello!)

The Canadian culture was to be unique and different but outside factors have created mass confusion on how to spell.

(There were many other websites that mentioned bits and pieces of what this article says. I chose to link you this certain article, alone, because it was the only article to contain a bit more information closer to what you're asking.)

I posted this too soon it seems. I found this article that seems to have a somewhat similar take to the other article, but with a semi-different spin.

Taking your point to heart, I decided to refine my search, looking strictly for only books. Finding this book in particular, the Google Preview looked promising. There is a lot to read, however. I don't think you'll mind that though; you seem to really want this answer!

Soft edit: I normally dislike Wikipedia, and I don't know if you saw this or not, but I think it gives a general clue as to how Canadian English became mixed. Link

  • Thank you, Souta. I will have a look at these articles after my kids are in bed.
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 0:17
  • Hi again Souta. Very much enjoyed the article by Stephen Henighan. Still looking for a why but perhaps there isn't one -- on the internet, at least!
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 13:23
  • May or may not have found a book that you could be looking for... ;)
    – Souta
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 14:42
  • Souta - do tell...
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 18:43
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    Very interesting links that I wouldn't have tripped over on my own. Thanks a lot.
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 13:14

I do not think that this question is capable of a simple answer. I think that this question is more the beginning of a discussion of what it means to be a Canadian.

You could have a similar question about any variety of English.

New Zealand spelling: why?

The first time I came to this site was when I was trying to spell the word 'vacuum'. For some reason I thought it was spelt 'vacumn'. At the end of the day, the correct spelling is just a convention.

You could easily reword your question: Why do Canadians have to be different?

You might find the answer in this book by John Kenneth Galbraith: The non-potable Scotch: A memoir on the clansmen in Canada [Paperback]

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