Monday, December 21st, 2015...4:17 am

Professional Editor’s Corner: Canadian Spelling and Hyphenation

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Billions of people around the world speak English. You’d think that this would facilitate communication, and it does. For the most part. Unfortunately, we have four major types of English (American, Australian, British, and Canadian), and when it comes to idioms and written communication, they differ somewhat.

Here I will begin guiding you through the major aspects of Canadian English. Let’s start with spelling.

Canadian English uses a combination of American and British spelling rules.

1. Use the American form for ise/ize verbs and related nouns

civilize, commercialize, idealize, lionize, minimize, normalize, optimize, organize, patronize, recognize

2. Use the British form for nouns ending in –or/–our

ardour, colour, endeavour, favour, flavour, honour, humour, labour, misdemeanour, neighbour, odour

3. Use the British form for nouns ending in –re/–er

calibre, centre, epicentre, kilometre, sceptre, theatre

4. Use the British form for verbs ending in –l/–ll

enrol – enrolment, fulfil – fulfilment, instil

5. Use the British form for nouns ending in –ce/–se

defence, licence, offence, pretence

6. Use the British form of verbs (past tense) ending in –l

cancelled, carolled, counselled, grovelled, modelled, labelled, marshalled, quarrelled, signalled, travelled

7. Use the American form when choosing between ae/oe and e

archeology, anemia, cesarean, chimera, diarrhea, ecumenical, encyclopedia, eon, medieval, primeval

Exceptions: aesthetic and onomatopoeia

For words not covered by the above general rules, consult the Oxford Canadian Dictionary online (free for spelling) or the Gage Canadian Dictionary.

Canadian Hyphenation

Canadian hyphenation follows American English for the most part (see the Chicago Manual of Style for more details), but we do see a couple of major differences.

1. Adjective + participle (–ing or –ed)

In American English, we hyphenate these compounds before nouns BUT NOT after.

The researcher asked 20 open-ended questions.


When questions are open ended, participants have greater freedom to share their experiences.

In Canadian English, we ALWAYS use hyphens for such compounds, no matter where they appear in the sentence.

My sister is a hard-working person. I wish I could be more hard-working.

2. Adjective + gerund*

In American English, we don’t pay attention to whether an adjective-gerund compound takes an object.

We simply hyphenate when such compounds precede nouns (that they describe) and omit the hyphen when they do not.

Dry cleaning involves harsh chemicals.

The dry-cleaning process is complicated.

Canadian English follows the above convention, but makes a distinction for when the compound takes an object.

Dry-cleaning 20 shirts (AN OBJECT) in an hour is hard.

Dry cleaning is not something I want to learn.

*Remember: A gerund is an –ing word (looks like a verb) that acts like a noun (we use gerunds anywhere we could use a regular noun). For example: Swimming (a gerund) is fun!

Now that you have some basics under your belt, go out there and try your Canadian!

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