17 Things You Should Know About Canadian French vs. French
You step off the plane in Montréal and hop on a bus to your hotel, only to notice that the French sounds a little different from the French you know.
Canadian French has its own quirks and characteristics, this post will explain what some of those are!
Aweille! (Let’s go!)
- An Introduction to Quebec French
- What to Know About Quebec French
- 1. There are some special nouns and verbs
- 2. There’s different eating time vocabulary
- 3. The accent is different
- 4. There are different pronunciations
- 5. Questions are asked a bit differently
- 6. Quebec uses tu a lot more
- 7. Quebec French has tried to erase English
- 8. Quebec French does use some English verbs
- 9. Canadian French uses words influenced by English
- 10. French Canadians say on, not nous
- 11. Là is used liberally as an informal marker
- 12. Ben is very common
- 13. Fin has many more meanings in québécois.
- 14. Bienvenue is way more common than you’d think.
- 15. Being sociable sounds a bit different
- 16. There are different money words
- 17. Quebec has its own unique idioms
An Introduction to Quebec French
Quebec French is based on the French that was spoken in Paris during the 17th and 18th centuries largely due to colonization.
During this period, Quebec became the center of the francophone world as new settlers grew the local population.
Now, French is the native tongue for 78% of Quebec’s population, and nearly 95% of the population is bilingual. English and French even have equal legal status in the government.
While both Quebec and France use the same grammar rules, verb conjugations and sentence structures, there is a big difference in accent, pronunciation and vocabulary.
What to Know About Quebec French
1. There are some special nouns and verbs
Here are some of the most prominent vocabulary terms that are used in Quebec French but not French from France.
In the parentheses you’ll find the equivalent you’d see in France:
- un char (une voiture) — car
- un breuvage (une boisson) — a drink/beverage
- une blonde (une petite-amie/copine) — girlfriend
- un chum (un petit-ami/copain) — boyfriend; buddy (between guys)
- la fête (l’anniversaire) — birthday
- la job (le boulot) — job
- une sacoche (un sac à main) — a purse
- un cellulaire (un portable) — cell phone
- un chandail (un pull/un t-shirt) — sweater/t-shirt
- la gomme (le chewing-gum) — bubblegum
- barrer (fermer à clef) — to lock the door
- jaser (bavarder) — to natter; to gossip
- magasiner (faire du shopping) — to go shopping
- faire le party (sortir en soirée) — to go out and party
- clavarder (chatter sur internet) — to chat online
2. There’s different eating time vocabulary
In Quebec, eating time vocabulary is quite different from that used in France:
- Le déjeuner (le petit-déjeuner) – breakfast–is eaten before midday.
- Le dîner (le déjeuner) – lunch–is eaten between midday and 5 p.m.
- Une collation (un goûter) – a snack–is eaten between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
- Le souper (le dîner) – dinner/evening meal–is eaten from 7 p.m. onwards.
3. The accent is different
People say that the Québécois accent, is chantant (sing-songy), when compared to other Francophone accents.
Like any language, there’s no standard Quebec accent as every city and town has its particular way of talking and unique slang.
Look at this video to see some differences in pronunciations between a French speaker from France vs. Quebec.
4. There are different pronunciations
A particularity of Quebec French is the replacement of il (him or it) with the sound/letter y. It’s common to hear Y’est malade (he is sick) or maybe Y fait bon (it’s nice out).
You may here elle (she or it) replaced with the letter a and an extended a sound: a mal au ventre (her stomach hurts).
The chu sound to replace je suis (I am) is quite charming. You’ll hear Québécois saying chu fatigué (I am tired) or chu en retard (I am late).
T and D
A really distinctive feature of québécois is that before the letters i and e, the consonants t and d are pronounced differently.
T becomes ts, and d becomes dz.
So, dîner (lunch) might sound like “dzîner” and canadien (Canadian) might sound like “canadzien.”
Québécois retains many of classical French’s original pronunciations, which no longer exist in France.
Here are some examples:
- Moi (me) is pronounced moé
- Toi (you) sounds like toé
- Oui (yes) becomes ouais
5. Questions are asked a bit differently
When it comes to asking questions in formal settings, the Quebeçois use vous (formal you) and say it exactly as you would in any other French-speaking area.
When kicking back or talking amongst one another in casual settings, there’s a little spin on sentence structure when asking questions.
See if you can spot the pattern…
T’en veux-tu? – Would you like some?
Tu m’écoutes-tu? – Do you hear me?/are you listening?
Tu t’en vas-tu? – Are you going?
Notice the additional tu (you) at the end of the question.
6. Quebec uses tu a lot more
Unlike in France, Quebec French is far more likely to use the informal form in non-business transactions—for example, ordering drinks at a bar or speaking to a supermarket cashier.
However, if in doubt, use vous (formal you) and follow the other person’s lead.
7. Quebec French has tried to erase English
The issue of language is quite political in Quebec as the Quebeçois tend to be very protective of French.
Quebec really focuses on preserving French, sometimes resulting in the adoption of new words in order to offset the influence of the heavily Anglo environment.
Stop signs say ARRÊT, instead of STOP as they do in other Francophone countries.
Faire du shopping (to go shopping) is less used, in favor of faire du magasinage or magasiner (from the word magasin, which means store).
Un mail or e-mail, commonly used in French, is exclusively un courriel in Quebec.
Le week-end is always la fin de semaine in Quebec.
8. Quebec French does use some English verbs
Despite state protection of French, the proximity of English has had its effects.
It’s common to hear Québécois conjugate English verbs into French sentences, for example, in Quebec you might hear…
J’ai plugé mon cellulaire. – I plugged in my cellphone.
J’ai uploadé le document. – I uploaded the document.
Je suis dans le rush et je suis hyper speed. – I’m in a rush and I’m going super fast.
J’ai un hangover. – I have a hangover.
On a crossé la street. – We crossed the street.
9. Canadian French uses words influenced by English
The pressure to avoid importing English words leads to American phrases being translated directly into French. These are called calques, or loan translations.
Here are a few:
Coca diète (Coca light) – Diet Coke
la fin de semaine (le week-end) – weekend
Je suis tombé en amour avec elle. (Je suis tombé amoureux d’elle.) – I fell in love with her.
être dans le trouble (avoir des problèmes/avoir des ennuis) – to be in trouble
10. French Canadians say on, not nous
The impersonal pronoun on (one) replaces nous (we) in pretty much all informal Canadian French conversations.
On (one) is followed by the third person singular of the verb:
On est à la plage. (Nous sommes à la plage.) – We are at the beach.
11. Là is used liberally as an informal marker
Là literally means “there,” but in québécois it appears at the end of many sentences as a marker of emphasis or an exclamation.
It’s like adding “eh” or “yeah” to an English sentence:
Là, là, ecoute-moé, là? – Listen to me, yeah?
Comprenez-vous, là? – Do you understand?
Moi là, je pense que… – Personally, I think that…
12. Ben is very common
Ben (really) is a great word in Canadian French, and you’ll hear it all the time in informal speech.
It comes from the word bien (well), and here are some examples of how you might hear it:
C’est ben loin, là. – It’s really far.
C’est pas ben beau. – It’s not very nice.
13. Fin has many more meanings in québécois.
In France, the word fin (noun: end; adjective: fine or thin) is used literally, but in French-speaking Canada, it takes on another meaning.
It describes someone’s personality as kind, similar to the French word sympa (nice).
So, if you hear someone talking about you and they say, “Elle est ben fine” (“She is really nice”), that’s a true compliment!
14. Bienvenue is way more common than you’d think.
In Canada, after you’ve said merci (thank you) to someone, the person will reply with: bienvenue (welcome, as a greeting).
Bienvenue is the normal way to say “you’re welcome” in Canada!
15. Being sociable sounds a bit different
These are some good terms to know if you want to meet up with friends:
Une date (un rendez-vous) is the word for “a date” (romantic or platonic).
Une blonde refers to a girl or girlfriend. And, it doesn’t matter what color her hair is, she’s always une blonde!
Sortir en gang (sortir avec mes amis) – to go out with friends is less scary than it sounds!
Aweille! (Allez!) – Yeah! You’ll hear this a lot. It’s similar to the Spanish ándale and it’s used to inject passion and energy into a situation.
C’est beau. (C’est bon.) – It’s all good.
De même (comme ça) – like that – This one can be confusing for European French speakers but an example is “Ça marche tout de même?” – “Does it work like that?”
Voyons – literally: let’s see – This is used to express surprise and sometimes frustration, as in “Voyons, y marche pas ce téléphone!” – “Agh, this phone isn’t working!”
C’est de valeur. (C’est dommage.) – It’s a shame.
16. There are different money words
As with most languages, French has a ton of slang words for all things cash.
L’argent (money) in France is called le bacon in Quebec! That’s right, this false friend is another loanword!
Le débit is the Canadian French name for la carte bleue/carte bancaire (bank card).
17. Quebec has its own unique idioms
Just like France has its particular expressions and phrases, so does Quebec!
Here are a few:
Mettre de l’eau dans son vin – Mix water in wine, i.e. get the the job done
C’est plate! – Boring!
Avoir mal au cœur. – To feel uneasy.
Now that you know the differences between Quebec French and French from France, you’ll be able to sound like a true Quebeçois!