Dragonfly Field Guide to Canadian English Usage

Canada’s rich history of settlement and immigration led to a distinctive dialect of English that shares features with British English, American English, Québécois French, and Indigenous languages. This guide highlights some common distinctions between American and Canadian English.1


Canada officially follows the International Metric System for measurements, but you’ll also see Canadians using the Imperial System in some contexts. They might announce a new baby’s weight in pounds rather than kilograms, for example, and Canadian railways measure distance and speed in terms of miles rather than kilometres.



Canadian English punctuation tends to follow the same rules as American English, but less is more when it comes to commas — you won’t see Canadian writers use the serial (Oxford) comma very often.

Quotation Marks

British English:

  • Quotes appear within single quotation marks: ‘Let’s have some ketchup chips.’
  • Double quotation marks signal a quote within a quote: ‘And then she said, “Let’s have some ketchup chips.”‘

American English:

  • Quotes appear within double quotation marks: “Let’s have some ketchup chips.”
  • Single quotation marks signal a quote within a quote: “And then she said, ‘Let’s have some ketchup chips.’”

Canadian English:

Both styles are correct and acceptable to use, as long as usage is consistent.

Punctuation with Quotations

Canadians generally follow the American convention of placing all periods and commas within closing quotation marks: She said, ‘Ketchup chips are delicious.’


Canadian English blends British and American spelling conventions — a preference for the American -ize (realize or organize) and the British -our (colour or flavour), for example — but Canadian spelling varies
and you may see exceptions to the guidelines below.2

Canadian UsageAmerican Usage
-oe- / -ae- 
manoeuvre, anaemia, anaesthetist
maneuver, anemia, anesthetist
Canadians are more likely to use -ed forms for the past tense, with a few exceptions: 
burnt, dreamt, knelt, leapt
-ed in past tense 
learned, spelled
(compare British English learnt, spelt)
defence, licence
defense/offense commonly appear in sports-related contexts
licence (noun) but license (verb)
Canadians use both pretence and pretense
defense, license
centre, litre
Canadians generally prefer British spelling, but American spelling is not uncommon:
fiber, luster, meager, theater
center, liter
Generally follows the same spelling rules as American English-ize organize
-iza- organization
-izi- organizing
-yze analyze
Canadians often double the ‘l’ before endings (except for -ize):
marvellous, marvelled

Single ‘l’:
marvelous, marveled
Generally follows British spelling (single ‘l’):
-l at the end 
Double ‘l’:
-ll at the end 
favourite, rumour
favorite, rumor

Words List

​​The following list illustrates common words and phrases that are unique to Canadian English and spellings that tend to differ from American English (though usage varies, and many Canadians may favor American spellings). In fact, much of the language (especially slang) is specific to the country’s regional dialects — you might find a gawmoge janny up for mummering in Newfoundland, for instance.

Canadian UsageAmerican Usage
aft (informal)afternoon
bachelor apartment (a very small bachelor apartment is a bachelorette)studio apartment
bargoon (slang)bargain
barley sandwich (slang)a beer
bespoke or customcustom-made
book offstay home from work (esp. when sick)
Canucka Canadian
centre (place)
center or centre (midpoint)
center (place or midpoint)
cheque (bank draft)check
chocolate barany candy bar
done like dinner (idiom)utterly defeated
double-doublecoffee with double servings of sugar and cream, esp. at Tim Hortons (“Tim’s” or “Timmies”), but also used in other contexts
fill your boots (idiom)take as much as you want of something
garburatorgarbage disposal
give someone the gears (idiom)pester, hassle
go snaky (idiom)lose self-control
grade 1 (2, 3, etc.)1st grade (2nd, 3rd, etc.)
hydroelectricity/electric utility company
holy jumpin’ (slang)express surprise, disbelief
icing sugarpowdered sugar
Instant Teller (proprietary)ATM
jeezly (adj., slang)damned
Johnny Canucknative, inhabitant, or citizen of Canada; Canadian soldier, esp. during world wars; Canada personified
lieu timecomp time
loonieCanadian dollar
Maple LeafCanadian flag
milk storeconvenience store
Molson muscle (slang)beer belly
mould or moldmold
mug-upbreak for a hot drink (usually tea) and snacks
normality or normalcynormalcy
per centpercent
phoney or phonyphony
practise (verb)practice (verb)
pyjamas or pajamaspajamas
parkadeparking garage
rag the puck (idiom)waste time intentionally
rangyrestless, uncontrollable, bad-tempered
serviettenapkin (for use with meals)
skeptic or scepticskeptic
skookumexcellent, impressive
smoulder or smoldersmolder
spinnycrazy, foolish
stag/stagettebachelor/bachelorette party
storey (pl. storeys) (building floor)story (pl. stories)
table (verb): to put something forward for consideration (specific to Parliament)table (verb): to postpone deliberation or consideration
the Great White North or the True NorthCanada
toonieCanadian $2 coin
tuque or toquebeanie (woolen winter hat)
two-fourcase of beer (24 cans/bottles)
two solitudesCanada’s anglophone and francophone populations — two coexistent but independent cultures
whitenernondairy creamer (powder) for coffee
Z — pronounced “zed”Z — pronounced “zee”

1This field guide is mainly based on Margery Fee & Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Katherine Barber, Only in Canada, You Say: A Treasury of Canadian Language (Oxford University Press, 2008). Additional resources: Oxford Canadian Dictionary, 2nd. ed. (Oxford University Press, 2006); The Canadian Press Stylebook: A Guide for Writers and Editors, 19th ed. (2021). 

2PerfectIt offers a setting to check for Canadian spelling.

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