Common Canadian English spelling mistakes

We “Canucks” often take pride in how we march to the beat of our own drum, and this can be seen in how we spell certain words. Unfortunately, while this may be good for our ego, it can present a challenge to writers, and here are some tips for avoiding some of the most common mistakes.

Why the difference?

Noah Webster, an American, created a dictionary of accepted spellings for certain words because he wanted to simplify the language. This became widely accepted in the USA, but in Canada, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald strongly felt we should stay true to our British heritage.

How are we the same?

For some words, Canadians have, over time, adopted the American version. An example of this is how we use “ize” instead of “ise” as a suffix for words such as “monetize” and “organize”. We also favour the “Yankee” version when spelling “tire”, “aluminum” and “curb”.

How are we different?

The variations in spelling in Canadian English may be subtle, but they are there. In many words, such as “neighbours” and “honour”, we include a “u”, while Americans do not. Other examples of the differences can be found in words like “amoeba”, “centre”, “whisky” and “theatre”.

Pitfalls to avoid

While the variations between Canadian and American English may be responsible for some of the more common spelling mistakes, there are lots of other words that tend to be misspelled. This may be because they are complex or don’t follow the accepted rules and conventions. In some cases, this is because their origin is another language, such as French or a First Nations dialect.

Another headache for writers and readers alike may be that many words in Canadian English are not spelled phonetically.

Conventions can come to the rescue!

Fortunately for writers north of the 45th parallel, there are some conventions to keep in mind. Many of our words use “ize” or “yze” as suffixes, and we tend to include the above-mentioned “u” when spelling words ending in “or” such as “honour” and “valour”. We prefer “re” instead of “er” when writing “theatre” or “centre”, and we also double the “l” at the end of words when adding a suffix, such as “travelled” and “travelling”.

We love local

Another issue to keep in mind when writing for a Canadian audience is regional and even local dialects. For instance, in the province of Nova Scotia, both Acadian and true French as well as Gaelic and Migmaw have strongly influenced the spelling of some words, especially place names such as “Louisbourg” “Ben Eoin” and “Membertou”. When appropriate, using these can create pieces that are more engaging and speak to those who live in the area.

Cutting through the confusion

As Canadian English tends to be a blend of the American and British with other languages thrown in for good measure, there are occasions where there are no basic conventions of spelling to follow. A good rule of thumb is to utilize reliable dictionaries such as the Collins Canadian Dictionary or the Gage Canadian Dictionary. The first spelling listed in these texts is the one that tends to be preferred by most Canadians.

When it comes to units of measurement, National Standards of Canada has established accepted terms. These include “litre”, “metric ton” and the prefix “deca-”.

A good spellcheck can be your best friend.

Find and utilize high-quality spellchecking software. Make sure it’s set for Canadian English, and it will help to ensure your spellings are correct. Another resource available online is the Frequently Misspelled Words List prepared by Public Works and Government Services Canada. This is part of its Writing Tips Plus toolkit, and is administered by the federal government. also offers a great at-a-glance alphabetical list of the differences between Canadian, British and American spellings.

Should I use Canadian or American English?

The first step in choosing which spelling to use is to decide which audience you are writing to. If it’s American, use the spelling that is accepted there. If your target is going to be mostly Canadian, then use that country’s conventions. If it’s intended for readers from around the globe, it can become a bit more difficult.

There are several different factors to take into consideration. Some feel that UK English should be used while others favour the American dialect and spelling. Doing a bit of research before you begin to write can help you to decide which will be the best one for you to follow for a particular piece.

If you are writing about a specific institution, such as the Center for Disease Control, use the officially accepted spelling.

Now that you know about some of the contortions of Canadian spelling, you will be able to create pieces that speak to a local, regional or even national audience. Put your new skills to good use by applying to join the team at Words of Worth today, so you can start writing from home.

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