How Canadian is your English?

Grammar, eh?! is a new IWA initiative meant to help writers improve their knowledge of English and English grammar.

We aim to publish biweekly an article on this topic, written by the IWA member Christina Friend, who is a writer, editor and content marketing specialist.

Take it away, Christina! 🙂



It’s easy to tell if a speaker is Canadian, eh? But there’s more to Canadian English than our favourite monosyllabic interjection. We honour our differences from our well-known neighbour to the south by using the letter “u,” for example, in “neighbour. Ditto for “favourite” and “honour.”

Next time you travel to the city centre to take in the theatre, note that we end those words on “re” instead of “er.” Even reciting the alphabet you’ll notice Canadians pronounce the last letter as “zed,” instead of the American “zee” (I mean, isn’t that German?).  Surprisingly, we almost never eat Canadian bacon. It’s just back bacon here but, yes, it is better with maple syrup. We like to think our English is closely tied to British usage, but we use Americanisms more than many realize. If you do the math (not “maths”) we sound American more often than not!

Luckily, despite our vast geographical span, Canadian English is fairly uniform from coast to coast, which makes things much easier on those who are still learning the nuances of Canadian English. Yet some regional varieties crop up. Atlantic Canada is well-known for its local expressions, which you might be familiar with if you’ve heard of the popular musical “Come From Away” (an outsider to Newfoundlanders). In Quebec you may hear an odd mash up of English and French phrases (“c’est le weekend!”), and if you’re chilly in Saskatchewan someone may offer you a bunny hug (a hooded sweatshirt).

So does any of this matter? Well, it depends on your audience. If you plan to sell your book in multiple counties, American English can be used as a default. But if your aim to be published in a Canadian magazine or newspaper, you’ll make your editors happy if you can stick to the Canadian style. Speaking of which, the Canadian Style Guide should be on your desk at all times if you plan to write for a Canadian audience. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary is a reliable resource as well:

Reading Canadian writers with a close eye can help you get more familiar with our particular style of English. The Globe and Mail newspaper, the Walrus Magazine and novels by Margarette Atwood are a good start. All of the above go nicely with a back bacon sandwich and a side of maple syrup!


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