Is Canadian English like British English or American English? The truth is, it’s a little bit of both. Let’s navigate the 4 most common questions together.

1.  What does “sorry” mean?

“Sorry” is a word that means many things. It’s not only used to apologize. It’s used to say, “I’m sorry”, “please excuse me”, and “pardon me?”

There is a joke that one Canadian will accidentally bump another one, and it will be the one who was bumped and not the bumper who will apologize. This is true, and many sentences start with the words, Sorry, but… as in, Sorry, but I don’t understand you. In these cases “sorry” is meant as a polite way of saying “excuse me.”


2.  Do you spell words the American way or the British way?

Spelling can be confusing, as Canadians have adopted both American and British spellings. As a rule, Canadians use the British “ou” spelling.

American Canadian British
Color Colour Colour
Behavior Behaviour Behaviour
Candor Candour Candour
Neighbor Neighbour Neighbour

But, they use the American “Z”

American Canadian British
Amortize Amortize Amortise
Analyze Analyze Analyse

 Tip: Experts say it doesn’t matter if you spell your words the “British” way, “American” way, or the “Canadian” way (this also goes for any other English speaking country) as long as you stay consistent. If you are typing using a word processor or other such software, make sure the language is set to the right country.


3. What does Canadian Pronunciation sound like?

How is the Canadian accent different from the American accent? The vowel sounds of O and U are pronounced differently in Canada, where the A sound is generally sharpened as it is in American English. Of course, both countries are quite large and have regional accents that are quite unique.

In general, in Canada, you’ll find that “ou” together sounds like “oo”. It’s very prominent in the following words:
House – sounds like “hoose”
About – sounds like “a boot”

Where the American accent puts more emphasis on the hard “a” sound, which you will hear in the word, “A-merican” (compared to the Canadian, “ah –meri-cen”.

In both the United States and Canada, you will hear the “t” sound pronounced like the letter “d” in some cases. These cases are when the “t” is in the middle of the word.

Bottle – sounds like “boddle”
Water – sounds like “wadder”
Daughter – sounds like “dauder”

For more information you can watch this wonderful YouTube lesson:
American vs. British English - Vowel Sounds

4. What does “Eh” mean?

If you go to Canada, you will hear Canadians end their sentences with “eh”. We use this instead of “tag” questions. In British English you will hear “tag questions” like this:

The weather is nice, isn’t it?
He is Joe’s son, isn’t he?
You are going to Spain, aren’t you?

This is meant to push the conversation forward. The “tag” is formed by using the auxiliary of the original statement (is, are) and then adding another question to the end of the statement.

The proper response is an acknowledgement and then another question:

Yes, it’s nice. Are you going out?
He is. Do you know him?
I am. Have you been there?

In Canadian English, we use “eh” instead.

The weather is nice, eh?

This is used when you know the answer will be yes. The response is a yes, or a nod.

Yes, it is.

Question tags are used in Canada, but not as commonly as in British English.

As a language learner, you may get frustrated with all the rules and different pronunciation of words and accents. Don’t worry though! When you start learning, choose the style of English that you appeals to your ears and your mouth. As you get better, you will begin to add more and different words and accents to your vocabulary.

When you do a test, make sure to research what kind of test you’re doing. For example, Oxford tests like First, BEC, or IELTS use British English and you’re expected to know the British spelling of words and some common expressions. However, examiners know that people these days are taught by a variety of teachers with different accents, so don’t worry if your teacher is American, British, or even Indian!

English is a changing language and is easily adaptable.


Suggested Resources:

Wikipedia: Canadian Raising
Rachel’s English: American English vs. British English
American Accent

Image by LEIGH R.HILBERT (CC BY 2.0)