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Dwain Richardson

English Editing in Quebec: What’s Translatable, What’s Not?

If any of you copywrite, edit or translate for federal clients, you’ll know that most department, agency, union and attraction names have official translations.

Department of National Defence
Canadian Media Guild
Canadian Museum of History
National Gallery of Canada
National Arts Centre
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police

ministère de la Défense nationale
La Guilde canadienne des médias
Musée canadien de l’histoire
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada
Centre national des Arts
Citoyenneté et Immigration Canada
Gendarmerie royale du Canada





The same is true for some provincial ministry, agency, union and attraction names:

Ontario Science Centre
Kouchibouguac National Park (NB)[1]
Murray Beach Provincial Park
Science North (ON)[2]
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (NB)
Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MB)[3]

Centre des sciences de l’Ontario
Parc national Kouchibouguac
Parc provincial Murray Beach
Science Nord
ministère de l’Éducation et du Développement de la petite enfance
ministère de l’Agriculture, Alimentation et Développement rural






However, most ministry, agency, union and attraction names in Quebec have no official translations.

Autorité des marchés financiers
Barreau du Québec
Commission des normes du travail du Québec
Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail
Ministère de l’Éducation, Enseignement supérieur et Recherche du Québec
Place des Arts
Quartier des spectacles
Sûreté du Québec
Union des producteurs agricoles

What’s an editor or translator to do when no parallel English equivalent exists? What capitalization usage should prevail? How should French be treated in English copy?

via Flickr:
via Flickr:

The Editors’ Association of Canada’s Editing Canadian English recommends using the official French title, paraphrasing as necessary. The guide also recommends using parentheses when paraphrasing:

Office québécois de la langue française (the government agency enforcing Quebec’s language laws).[4]

This practice is often adopted in daily national newspapers such as The Globe and Mail. In fact, most journalists paraphrase the title, offset it with a comma and use the official language acronym. It’s common to read something along the lines of “the government agency enforcing Quebec’s language laws, the OQLF … ”

When providing an unofficial translation, both the Translation Bureau’s The Canadian Style and The Chicago Manual of Style have different rules with respect to how translations should be treated. The Canadian Style recommends placing the translation in square brackets. The Chicago Manual of Style, however, suggests parentheses.

Sûreté du Québec [Quebec provincial police]
Sûreté du Québec (Quebec provincial police)[5]

Notice that the generic “provincial police” is lowercased. Since the Sûreté du Québec has no official translation, the generic need not be uppercased.

This brings us to the next question: What capitalization usage should prevail when dealing with French in English copy? Answers vary depending on in-house style. In the federal and provincial examples that opened this article, you noticed that most parallel French titles are written with an initial uppercase letter, while other words are lowercased, unless these words are a denomination or a proper noun. However, a few organizations in Quebec capitalize all major words:

Les Grands Ballets
Le Cirque du Soleil
Alliance Française[6]

When should you capitalize? Consult the organization’s website. Chances are, the usage you see is the in-house norm.

What’s the rule governing ministère (ministry)? Editing Canadian English says: “Follow the official capitalization for the rest of the name, but uppercase Ministère.”[7] Use a capital letter in official government ministries such as:

the Ministère du Tourisme Québec
the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Occupation du territoire
the Ministère des Transports
the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications

As in the official French examples above, all ministry, agency, union and company names are written in roman characters. This practice must be followed in English copy.

Can you use English equivalents and French acronyms in the same text? Such a practice is defended by taking a glance at the province’s health portal.[8] The official name for Quebec’s health and social service centres is Centres de santé et de services sociaux, or CSSS. However, in English copy, the English equivalent may be used, provided the official French acronym be predominant throughout. The Canadian Journal of Public Health follows suit.[9] Most health and social service centre names have no official translations. But in some areas of the province, you may see parallel English translations with official French titles.

Centre de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest de l’Île
West Island Health and Social Services Centre

Centre de santé et de services sociaux –  Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Sherbrooke
Health and Social Services Centre – University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke

Of course, when translations are available, follow traditional English capitalization usage, i.e., use capitals on all main words (nouns, adjectives, verbs).

What about places, streets and structures? For places, use official French names. You would therefore write Trois-Rivières instead of Three Rivers and Sept-Îles instead of Seven Islands. Do you retain written accents on cities like Montreal and Quebec City? According to Editing Canadian English and The Canadian Style, they must be kept in federal publications. As for street names, they may be translated or kept in French at the translator’s discretion. For instance, Montreal’s boulevard Saint-Laurent may be written Boulevard Saint-Laurent, boulevard Saint-Laurent or Saint-Laurent Boulevard. (It’s common to abbreviate Saint or Sainte in French; common abbreviations are St or St for masculine names and Ste or Ste for feminine names.) With respect to structures such as bridges, names may be translated or kept in French, again at the translator’s discretion, e.g., le pont Cartier-Macdonald can be written as Pont/pont Cartier-Macdonald or Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. Rule of thumb: Whether or not place, street or structure names are translated, they must retain written accents or other relevant punctuation such as hyphens.


Next topic: Mind Your Noun Strings, Please!
Previous topic: English Editing in Quebec: False Cognates, Syntax and Interferences — Oh My!

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[1] NB = New Brunswick.

[2] ON = Ontario.

[3] MB = Manitoba.

[4] Editing Canadian English, 3rd edition, Editors’ Association of Canada, p. 247. 2015.

[5] Ibid, 247.

[6] Ibid, 248, 249.

[7] Ibid, 249.

[8] Santé Montréal Portal, <>, last updated 26 June 2015; date accessed: 14 July 2015.

[9] Mylaine Breton, Jean-Louis Denis, Lise Lamothe, “Incorporating Public Health More Closely Into Local Governance of Health Care Delivery: Lessons from the Québec Experience” from Canadian Journal of Public Health. <>, accessed 14 July 2015.




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7 Comments on “English Editing in Quebec: What’s Translatable, What’s Not?”

  • Claire


    Very interesting, Dwain, thanks. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of retaining accents in place names that have become standard in English: Montreal, for example, is spelled without the accent in Can Ox except when it’s part of a specifically French name, such as Montréal-Ouest or Île-de-Montréal. To me, the accent in heavily English text often looks pretentious.

    • Thank-you for your comment, Claire. I remember attending a workshop about editing and translating for Quebec during a language professional conference in Quebec City this past May. As the conference speaker pointed out, written accents are to be retained only if you’re writing or translating federal, provincial, or municipal documents. You’re right about maintaining the accent in specific area names like the ones you mentioned above. In tourism documents, personal correspondence, or non-governmental texts, however, whether or not translators or editors retain accents is left at their discretion. Some may decide to keep the accent to preserve the text’s “Frenchness” (could be ideal for translating tourism brochures), while others will remove it to avoid pretentiousness. I don’t keep accents when writing “Montreal” or “Quebec City” in English, but will certainly keep it for place names with no official English equivalent.

      • Claire


        That sounds very sensible!

  • Claudine


    Thanks for this great information. I will use it when editing government work.

  • Sue Archer


    Dwain, thanks for your comprehensive coverage of this topic. It gave me a lot of food for thought!

  • Terry Knowles


    Very useful and balanced. Thanks.
    As concerns bridges, note that in Montreal the Champlain Bridge and the Jacques Cartier Bridge (no hyphen in English) are federal concerns and have official English names (that’s why you suddenly see bilingual signs when you get on the bridge!).
    The City of (sorry, Ville de) Montreal actually insists on commas in street numbers, i.e. 123, rue Principale in their English translations. (I’m not opening up a discussion on the validity of this, just mentioning it.)

    • RE: Official bridge names in English: Right you are, Terry! French usually hyphenates names, whereas English does not (unless, of course, the place, bridge, or building name has no English equivalent).

      You’re also correct about commas between civic numbers and the French generic. One of my future posts will discuss French style in English copy. I’m sure you’ll find it most interesting. 🙂

      Thank-you for contributing to this article!

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