Is Canadian French different from European French?

The French language has a long and fascinating history, having been brought to the modern world by the Gauls (a group of ancient Celtic peoples of mainland Europe) in the 5th century. From there, it spread across Europe as the language of courtly love and chivalry as well as intellectual pursuits. During this time, many distinct dialects developed across France and Europe.

Over the centuries, French underwent several changes, eventually becoming the standardised form it is today. Despite this standardisation, regional dialects still exist and are spoken throughout France and other European countries, as well as in distant Canada.

But, is Canadian French really different from European French? And, how different exactly? These are the questions we will attempt to answer in this article.

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A brief history of French Canadian

French was brought to Canada by the first European settlers in the 17th century, who were drawn to Canada for its abundant resources and New World opportunities and the promise of religious freedom, as the Church in France was very powerful at the time.

During the 18th century, French Canada was systematically conquered by Great Britain through a series of wars and treaties. This British takeover began in the Atlantic territories and continued all the way to Quebec. During this period, French was relegated to a lower status in terms of trade and political clout. But, despite the British government’s attempts to Anglicise the French-speaking populace, French continued to be the dominant language among the people.

In order to encourage the coexistence of the two linguistic groups, in 1774, the Quebec Act was passed by the British Parliament, which restored French civil laws.

In 1969, Canada issued its first Official Languages Act in an effort to ensure the even footing of both English and French in government affairs. This law was updated and revised further in 1988 for added clarity.

Since then, the two languages have also gradually reached a greater level of equality in most of the provinces, through concentrated French education programs and policies. New Brunswick, so far, is the only province in the country to have voluntarily opted to become officially bilingual, but a number of regions in other provinces have also achieved a similar goal, in practice if not on paper!

Is Canadian French different from European French?

When we talk about Canadian French vs. European French, there’s one thing we need to bear in mind –we are always talking about the same language. If you have been trained to speak French from France, you will always find other varieties intelligible and you will have no problem navigating your way through the lexical or phonetic surprises that you’ll find along the way.

But, of course, given the great geographical distance between France and Canada, it is understandable that the same language has evolved differently in each region throughout history.

Thus, although the differences may seem completely insignificant to anyone who does not speak French well, the truth is that they are, to say the least, striking and worth mentioning.

Here are some of the biggest, most noticeable, most interesting differences between Canadian French and European French.

Differences In Vocabulary

For English speakers, vocabulary differences among different varieties of English are not a surprise. For example, we know that Americans say “cookie” and “apartment” where British people say “biscuit”, or “flat”.

With French —an ever-evolving language— it’s the same story. In fact, there are so many cases in which Canadian and European French use different words to convey the same meaning, that we’ve decided to come up with a chart with the most common examples.

European French Canadian French English translation
Achigan largemouth
bass (a fish)
crépuscule Brunante twilight
airelle atoca blueberry
glouton Carcajou glutton
verrouiller barrer to lock
bac traversier ferry


The words above illustrate cases in which the same thing or concept is conveyed different terms in Canada vs. France.

But then there is the opposite case, just as common, in which the same term means different things depending on what variety of French you’re using! This is the case, for example, of the word dépanneur. In Quebec, this word means “a convenience store, especially one that sells alcohol”, whereas in European French a dépanneur is a repairman.

However, the main reason why so many expressions are specific to Canadian French is that, as a result of the constant contact between the Francophone and English-speaking cultures, Canadians speakers of French are much more prone to borrow or adapt English words than French people.

English loanwords

Here are a few keywords and phrases that are said differently in Canadian French as a result of this tendency to borrow English expressions.

la fin de semaine (France) → le weekend (Canada) → the weekend

au revoir (France) → Bye/Bye bye (Canada) → goodbye

c’est marrant! (France) → (Canada) → How fun!

c’est mignon! (France) → c’est cute! (Canada) → How cute!

manteau (France ) → coat (Canada) → coat

Differences In Pronunciation

The lexical differences between the two main varieties of French are certainly numerous and interesting. But, as happens with most of the dialects of a language, the most striking variations are found in the way people from different regions pronounce words.

Indeed, there are some very noticeable disparities in how Canadians pronounce both vowels and consonants when compared to French people. Quebecois French in particular has a wider vowel range due to its greater nasalization and, contrary to the popular belief that it has a more ‘modern sound’ than European French, its pronunciation is in fact more similar to that of the 17th century than to that of present-day France.

European French vs. Canadian French: the main phonetic differences

  • Very often, the sound /e/ («-ais» y «-ait») at the end of words is pronounced «a». As a result, parfait (perfect) is pronounced «parfa» instead of «parfe».
  • The pronunciation of the vowel «è» is very close to that of an «aè», which means that mere (mother) is pronounced «maère» and pere (father) is pronounced «paère» instead of being said with an open «e» sound.
  • The ending «–oir», as in avoir (goodbye) is pronounced as «-oér» («avoér»); not «-oar» («avoar»)
  • Words ending in A are pronounced with a long «a:» sound («Canadaa»).
  • The letter U is pronounced «eu». As a result, the word minute (minute) is pronounced «méneute».
  • The difference between the “un” in Lundi (Monday) and the “in” in linge (laundry) is more salient in Canadian French than in European French.

So, is Canadian French different from European French?  The answer is definitely yes. The two varieties of French have many lexical and phonetic differences, and even though they are both based on the same language, French, the different geopolitical context in which each of them has been spoken for so long has created a dialect with characteristics that make it distinct from its European counterpart.

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Although it might take some getting used to, we can assure you that learning Canadian French can definitely be a rewarding experience for any Francophone! This is especially true if, instead of learning with boring textbooks or recorded lessons, you do it with a customized language course tailored to your own needs and goals.

That way you can learn at your own pace and practice with a native Canadian French speaker!

At Language Trainers, we work with French and Canadian teachers who are native speakers and conversational specialists. That way, you can practise your language skills in an efficient and fun environment, while learning different aspects of Canadian or French culture. So don’t wait any longer and contact us today! We guarantee you won’t regret it.