canadian french

Québécois French vs. French: 17 Important Differences, from Pronunciation to Unique Words

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 and this post will explain what some of those are!

Aweille ! (Let’s go!)

Contents

 

An Introduction to Canadian French

When we talk about Canadian French, this refers to the several dialects of French spoken in Canada. These include Québec French, Acadian French and Métis French, with Québec French being the most widespread and well-known.  

Québec French, also commonly referred to as québécois French, is based on the French that was spoken in Paris during the 17th and 18th centuries largely due to colonization.

During this period, Québec became the center of the francophone world as new settlers grew the local population.

Now, French is the native tongue for 78% of Québec’s population, and nearly 95% of the population is bilingual. English and French even have equal legal status in the government.

While both Québec 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 Québécois French

1. There are some special nouns and verbs

Here are some of the most prominent vocabulary terms that are used in Canadian French but not French from France.

In the parentheses, you’ll find the equivalent you’d see in France:

Check out this video to see a comparison of words used by a French speaker from France vs. Québec.

It’s worth mentioning that Canadian French also has its own unique set of religion-related swear words that can confuse French speakers from France. For example, tabarnak normally means “tabernacle” (an ornate box where the Communion host is kept), but in Québec, it’s a very profane swear word. 

2. There’s different eating time vocabulary

Eating time vocabulary in Québec is quite different from that used in France:

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 Canadian French accent as every city and town has its own particular way of talking and unique slang. 

4. There are different pronunciations 

Il

A particularity of québécois 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).

Elle

You may hear  elle  (she or it) replaced with the letter a and an extended a sound: a mal au ventre (her stomach hurts).

Je suis

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).

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.”

Vowels

Québécois retains many of classical French’s original pronunciations, which no longer exist in France.

Here are some examples:

You can learn about some of the different variations in pronunciation as well as see some other differences between the French spoken in France and québécois French in this video!

5. Questions are asked a bit differently

When it comes to asking questions in formal settings, Canadian French uses vous (formal “you”) and says 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. Québécois French uses tu a lot more

Unlike in France, québécois 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. Québécois French has tried to erase English

The issue of language is quite political in Québec as the Québécois tend to be very protective of French.

Québec really focuses on preserving French, sometimes resulting in the adoption of new words in order to offset the influence of the heavily Anglo environment.

For example:

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 Québec.

Le week-end is always la fin de semaine in Québec.

8. Québécois 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 Québec you might hear…

J’ai plugé mon cellulaire. I plugged in my cell phone.

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. is used liberally as an informal marker

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, écoute-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 ) means to go out with friends. It’s less scary than it sounds!

Aweille ! ( Allez ! ) means “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. ) means “It’s all good.”

De même ( comme ça ) means “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 means “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. ) means “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 Québec! 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. Canadian French has its own unique idioms

Just like France has its particular expressions and phrases, so does Québec!

Here are a couple:

C’est plate ! Boring!

Avoir mal au cœur. To feel uneasy.

As you’ve seen above, there are many differences between québécois French and the French spoken in France. One of the best ways to learn the differences is to immerse yourself in authentic French content so you can see how the language is used. For example, you could watch French Canadian TV shows.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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Now that you know the differences between québécois French and French from France, you’ll be able to sound like a true Québécois! 

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