How do we spell in Canadian English?




Canadian English has a great number of influences when it comes to spelling. With the variant spellings of so many words, people writing according to Canadian spelling standards often become confused, most notably with the differences between British and American spelling. When confused about the proper Canadian spelling of a word, language professionals obviously can and should consult a reliable and authoritative dictionary (such as the Canadian Oxford or Gage Canadian Dictionary), but this can become time-consuming and repetitive.


The list of tips and tricks found below is by no means extensive, but it does provide a quick go-to list for the confused language professional. One very important thing to bear in mind is consistency; even if a word has many different spelling variants, writers should choose one and use it throughout the entirety of a text.




  1. -OUR vs. -OR noun endings
  • Canadian usage prefers the British spelling in this case, i.e. -our endings.
  1. E.g. neighbour, colour.
  • TRICK: -our ending because it’s our spelling.
  1. RE vs. –ER noun endings
  • Again, the British spelling is preferred, i.e. –re endings.
  1. E.g. theatre, centre.
  • TRICK: Remember that -re endings require proper spelling.
  1. CE vs. –SE noun endings
  • Canadian spelling is the same as the British, i.e. -ce endings.
  1. E.g. pretence, defence.
  • TRICK: -se endings are silly and senseless in Canadian spelling.
  1. ISE vs. –IZE verb endings (and their derived noun forms)
  • Canadian usage prefers the American spelling in this case.
  1. E.g. civilize/civilization, organize/organization.
  • TRICK: Canadians think z-endings have zeal.






    1. AFFECT is a verb that usually means influence.

      1. E.g. Sleep deprivation affects my spelling abilities.
      2. TRICK: Affect is the action (verb).
    2. EFFECT is a noun that means a result or an impact.

      1. E.g. Sleep deprivation has a negative effect on my spelling abilities.
      2. TRICK: Effect is a noun almost every time.
    3. NOTE: the verb effect also exists, though it is rarely used. It means to bring about.

      1. E.g. An authoritative body can effect changes in Canadian spelling.
      2. TRICK: In very exceptional circumstances effect can be used as a verb.


  1. ANYONE vs. ANY ONE (same rule for EVERYONE vs. EVERY ONE)

    1. a. ANYONE always refers to people.

      1. E.g. Anyone can learn to spell properly.
      2. TRICK: One word = one reference, therefore anyone only refers to people.
    2. ANY ONE usually refers to objects. It can, however, also be used to refer to people when it is referencing any single individual.

      1. E.g. Canadian spelling conventions cannot all be traced back to any one language.
      2. E.g. You cannot expect any one language professional to constantly remember all the Canadian spelling rules.
      3. TRICK: Two words = two references, therefore any one can refer to either people or objects.



    1. ASSURE means to guarantee (something to someone) and to remove doubt.

      1. E.g. I assure you that these three words have different meanings.
      2. TRICK: you have to assure something to someone.
    2. ENSURE means to make sure or certain.

      1. E.g. Please ensure that your spelling is accurate.
      2. TRICK: ensure means to make sure.
    3. INSURE is related to insurance.

      1. E.g. He is so good at spelling that he had his brain insured.
      2. TRICK: you buy insurance to insure something.



    1. COMPLIMENT expresses praise, admiration or flattery.

      1. E.g. He complimented me on my good spelling.
      2. TRICK: I like to get compliments.
    2. COMPLEMENT expresses the idea that things come together to form a complete unit or supplement one another.

      1. E.g. These tips and tricks complement other spelling guides and resources language professionals should have on hand.
      2. TRICK: complements complete each other.



    1. DEPENDENT is an adjective that means conditional, unable to do without, etc.

      1. E.g. Whether or not you get the job is dependent on your spelling skills.
      2. TRICK: dependent describes a noun.
    2. DEPENDANT is a noun; it means someone who relies on another person for support (especially financial support).

      1. E.g. Despite her amazing spelling skills, she is a dependant, and her parents have to be sure to indicate this on their tax return.
      2. TRICK: a dependant is a human.



    1. EVERYDAY is an adjective meaning daily or ordinary.

      1. E.g. Spelling is an everyday activity.
      2. TRICK: If you can substitute everyday/every day with daily or ordinary, use everyday (one word, because one word substitutes one word).
    2. EVERY DAY is an expression of time meaning each day.

      1. E.g. You should practice spelling every day.
      2. TRICK: If you can substitute every day/everyday for each day, use every day (two words, because two words substitute two words).



    1. FARTHER can be an adjective or adverb that refers to physical distance.

      1. E.g. My dictionary is farther from me than this guide.
      2. TRICK: When something is far (i.e. in terms of distance), use farther.
    2. FURTHER can be an adjective, adverb or verb and refers to metaphorical or figurative distance.

      1. E.g. At this point, I have progressed further than you in terms of grammar and spelling.
      2. E.g. He furthered his grammar and spelling skills through using this guide.
      3. TRICK: use further if the situation is unusual (i.e. metaphorical or figurative) or if it’s being used as a verb.
    3. NOTE: In certain (ambiguous) instances, both farther and further are correct in context. E.g. I am farther/further in my book than you are in yours. If the writer is referring to physical distance in the book (i.e. how may pages), farther is correct. However, if the author is referring to how far along he or she is in the story (i.e. figuratively), further is correct. Some style guides and dictionaries do not make a distinction between the two.


  1. HANGED vs. HUNG

    1. HANGED is used for people (for example, in cases of capital punishment).

      1. E.g. Spelling is important, but you won’t be hanged for bad spelling.
      2. TRICK: It’s hangman, not hungman.
    2. HUNG is used for objects (i.e. everything else).

      1. E.g. I hung my coat over my spelling books.
      2. TRICK: Use hung unless you’re talking about someone.


  1. I.E. vs. E.G.

    1. I.E. stands for id est and means roughly that is. Use for clarification when meaning that is to say.

      1. E.g. I wrote the article using appropriate grammar and spelling norms, i.e. Canadian grammar and spelling rules.
      2. TRICK: Use i.e. when you mean in other words.
    2. E.G. stands for exempli gratia, which means for example. Use when giving one or more examples. Never follow a list of examples beginning with e.g. with etc. because this would be redundant (you’ve already indicated that you’re only listing some examples and that the list is not extensive by using e.g.).

      1. E.g. Write using the proper punctuation marks, e.g. commas and semi-colons.
      2. TRICK: Use e.g when giving examples.
    3. NOTE: The use of a comma after e.g. or i.e. is optional and depends on which style guide the author is following. Writers should be consistent and choose to either use the comma or not throughout an entire document.



    1. IMMIGRATE means to enter and settle in a country or region.

      1. E.g. They immigrated to Canada and found that Canadian spelling sometimes differed from British and American spelling.
      2. TRICK: You immigrate when you come into a new country or region.
    2. EMIGRATE means to leave a country or region to settle in another.

      1. E.g. They emigrated from England where British spelling is used.
      2. TRICK: You emigrate when you exit your country or region.
    3. NOTE: The choice between immigrate and emigrate is based on perspective. Writers who do not wish to make this distinction can use migrate, which means to move from one place to another and refers to both humans and animals.


  1. ITS vs. IT’S

    1. ITS is the possessive form of it.

      1. E.g. The company reviewed its spelling practices.
      2. TRICK: Its is possessive and therefore wants to keep its letters as close together as possible.
    2. IT’S is the contraction of it is or it has.

      1. E.g. It’s easy to use proper grammar and spelling when you know how!
      2. TRICK: It’s (it is) going to need an apostrophe.


  1. LAY vs. LIE

    1. LAY (past tense LAID) is a transitive verb and therefore always takes an object.

      1. E.g. I lay the spelling book on the table. I laid the spelling book on the table yesterday.
      2. TRICK: You lay an object (usually on something).
    2. LIE (past tense LAY) is an intransitive verb and therefore never takes an object.

      1. E.g. After studying grammar and spelling, I often need to lie down. After studying grammar and spelling yesterday, I lay down.
      2. TRICK: Lie is intransitive and therefore never takes an object.


  1. LEAD vs. LED

    1. LEAD is the present tense form of the verb to lead.

      1. E.g. Teachers lead students through learning grammar and spelling rules.
      2. TRICK: Those who lead also read.
    2. LED is the past tense form of the verb to lead.

      1. E.g. This guide led language professionals to the correct spelling answers.
      2. TRICK: Ted led Ned to bed.



    1. PRINCIPAL can either be a noun (i.e. person in charge) or an adjective (meaning main.

      1. E.g. The principal called students to his office for poor academic achievement, the principal issue being bad spelling.
      2. TRICK: The principal is your pal, the main actor or agent, the adjective.
    2. PRINCIPLE is a noun meaning universal law or rule of conduct.

      1. E.g. This guide outlines some spelling principles.
      2. TRICK: Principle is a rule.



    1. RESERVE is the term used in Canada used to describe an area of land set aside for a specific group of Aboriginal people.
    2. RESERVATION is the term used to describe the same thing, but in the United States.



    1. STATIONARY means fixed or unmoving.

      1. E.g. The spelling book is stationary.
      2. TRICK: stationary = stay still.
    2. STATIONERY is material used for writing.

      1. E.g. Office stationery.
      2. TRICK: stationery = for letters.


  1. THEN vs. THAN

    1. THEN is temporal; it's used as a time marker or to indicate a sequence of events.

      1. E.g. We’ll eat, then study for the test. See you then!
      2. TRICK: then is temporal
    2. THAN is used for comparisons.

      1. E.g. His grammar is better than yours.
      2. TRICK: than is for comparisons.



    1. THERE is used to refer to a place or with the verb to be to indicate the existence of something or to mention it for the first time.

      1. E.g I’ll meet you there; there are lot of rules and exceptions in Canadian spelling.
      2. TRICK: There is a way to adhere to spelling rules everywhere, even there.
    2. THEIR is used to indicate possession.

      1. E.g. Their spelling is excellent after having read these tips and tricks.
      2. TRICK: possessive their takes an i because I can possess things
    3. THEY’RE is a contraction of they and are.

      1. E.g. They’re having a lot of fun learning about spelling.
      2. TRICK: They’re going to need an apostrophe for they’re.



    1. a. The proper Canadian spelling of this word is through.

      1. b. TRICK: You have to get through spelling through because the Canadian spelling is the longer, more complicated one.


  1. WHOSE vs. WHO’S

    1. WHOSE is the possessive form of who.

      1. E.g. Whose spelling book is this?
      2. TRICK: Whose is possessive and therefore wants and has more letters.
    2. WHO’S is a contraction of who is.

      1. Who’s the best speller of the group?
      2. TRICK: Who’s going to need an apostrophe? Those using a contraction.






Ensure that the following sentences are correct according to Canadian grammar and spelling rules. Correct any mistakes.

1. He met his neighbor at the community centre.



2. Yesterday, they lead him to the reservation; he had never been to one before.


3. Its our principle concern.


4. He complimented me on my new coat as I hanged it on the coat rack.



5. She remained stationary to insure she would not be seen.


6. Every one can have an affect on the world.


7. Who’s book is this? I.e. who forgot to put it away?



8. Their are lots of everyday activities to do here.


9. They’re family immigrated from Ireland last year but had trouble going thru customs.


10. The way he lay down yesterday was dependant on how his back was feeling.





Dundurn Press. The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997.

Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

Flick, Jane and Celia Millward. Handbook for Writers. 3rd Canadian ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, Ltd., 1999.

Messenger, William E. et al. The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. 5th ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2008.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004.

The Gage Canadian Dictionary. Rev. Ed. Toronto: Gage Publishing Ltd., 2000.



Created by: Diana Franz