What is Canadian French

The differences between French from France and Quebec French

French is one of the official languages ​​or the official language in 29 countries. Between approximately 77 and 110 million people speak French as their first language and around 190 million people speak the language as a foreign or second language. Estimates of how French will develop in the near future differ slightly. The Organization international de la Francophonie has published a forecast that says that by 2050 around 700 million people will speak French as their mother tongue or as a foreign language.

Most people who list French as their first language outside of France live in Quebec. Along with other regions in Canada and the United States, a total of 8% of the total population of the Americas are native French speakers. With the high concentration of French-speaking people in Quebec, this province plays an important role within la Francophonie - the community of French-speaking countries, organizations, governments and collectives that use French on a daily basis or as an official language.


How French came to Canada

In order to understand the differences between French from France and that from Quebec (le français québécois), it is necessary to give a brief historical overview of how French came to Canada and what happened afterwards. It all began with King Francis I the Knight King, who commissioned a western expedition to find an alternative trade route to China. Jacques Cartier did not land in China in 1534, but on the Gaspé Peninsula (or Gaspésie) in what is now the province of Quebec. New France was formed and settlers began to come to North America. New France peaked in 1712 when the territory covered over half the area of ​​what is now Canada and the United States.

In addition to this climax, there are other historical events that explain why there are differences between the French from the European continent and the Canadian French. First, in 1754, a surprise attack took place, known as the La guerre de la Conquete led. Because of the harshness of Canadian winters compared to France, the population of New France was much smaller than that of the 13 colonies in the United States. As a result, New France was much more vulnerable to attack. In addition, France and Great Britain were involved in the Seven Years' War, which resulted in the Treaty of Paris (1763). As a consequence, the province of Quebec fell under British rule, which meant a turning point in the relationship between the French-speaking province and motherland France.

What sets Quebec French apart from the rest

Before we can focus on the differences between French from France and French in Quebec, it is important to note that the two variants of this language do not differ that much in their written form. Although there are some differences in vocabulary and semantics, the people of Quebec use standard French grammar. Therefore it can be difficult to guess whether a French or a Quebecer wrote an official text.

The main differences are to be found in the spoken language. Let's start with the pronunciation: this includes, for example, the quality of the vowels and consonants. Quebec French has a richer vowel inventory due to stronger and more extensive nasalization. In addition to that, the upper vowels i, u and ou pronounced in closed syllables with less tension. This results in the fact that homophonic words in standard French differ in Quebec French, such as pâte other patte.

Apart from the pronunciation, one can also see strong influences from the English language from the time of British rule over Canada and from industrialization. Similarly influenced Native American languages ​​see the language in Quebec. The effects of the interruption in French-Canadian relations can also be seen: During this time, some words in French in France have undergone a development that did not take place in French-speaking Canada.

A selection of typical differences between the two variants

There are many examples of how the two variants differ in vocabulary and meaning. Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of ​​the differences.

Quebec FrenchFrench from FranceGermanannotation
achiganperche noirethe black bass
atocaairellethe cranberrythis word is derived from the word of the indigenous people
carcajougloutonthe wolverine (zool.)this word is derived from the word of the indigenous people
barrerverrouillershut off
traverseferry / bacthe ferry


There are also words that can be found in the same form in both variants of the language but have different meanings. For example, dépanneur refers to a corner store or small grocery store in Quebec, while in France it is used to a person making home visits for repairs, such as an electrician or handyman.

Even if we are talking about the differences between French and Quebec French, it must also be noted that Quebec French has not developed so much away from French in France in some points. This is how the verb is still used in Canada today magasiner used for shopping that was used in north-west France over 300 years ago. In Europe the construction fair you shopping (doing the shopping) is used instead.

Quebec French also has a very wide range of slang words and idioms that are specific to Quebec and its culture. Baise-moué l'ail, that literally kiss my garlic means is just an example. Probably the most plausible explanation is that ail to replace an English word for a part of the body that is between the back and the thighs. However, we can only speculate here why it is the garlic of all things that should be kissed. Maybe it's just the similar word sound to the English word, but maybe also the shape of the garlic. Maybe there is another reason entirely.

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