Canadian usage question: Grade Five, or fifth grade?
May 29, 2019 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm editing a book of memoirs. It includes a lot of mentions of school years, and I'm uncertain whether the usage should be Grade Five, grade five, or fifth grade. This is in Canada.

The book is a collective work by adult members of one family. The elderly parents have spent most of their lives in Montreal; the adult children all emigrated to the United States years ago.

I recall reading that one usage was more typically Canadian and the other American. However, since the book is being produced in Canada where I live, I've been gently imposing Canadian usage on the contents. Catch is that, in this case, I'm not sure what it is.

Given that amateur writers often Capitalize Things unnecessarily, I've been tending away from "Grade Five" but I can't decide whether "grade five" or "fifth grade" reads better. Suggestions?
posted by zadcat to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
grade five (prairies)
posted by nathaole at 7:22 PM on May 29, 2019 [8 favorites]

Grade five. I would not capitalize.
posted by jeather at 7:23 PM on May 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Definitely not fifth grade; that's the American usage. Grade five is the Canadian expression; I defer to others on the capitalization question.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:26 PM on May 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Another for “grade five.” I grew up in Ontario.
posted by bkpiano at 7:27 PM on May 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Grade 5. You can spell the ‘five’ word if you want but it looks better to me without it. Definitely no caps. BC born and raised.

Proof: Grade 9 by the Barenaked Ladies.
posted by cgg at 7:36 PM on May 29, 2019 [15 favorites]

I would also say "Grade Five" (Toronto, 1980s-90s) - not sure about the capitalization, but I'm inclined towards it.

The Bare Naked Ladies (from Toronto) also agree with "Grade [Number]".
posted by jb at 7:38 PM on May 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Capitalization of Grade Five is an older usage (pre-1960s I would guess) so it may be appropriate in the context of older people writing.
posted by saucysault at 7:38 PM on May 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would also use grade five and if a writer used fifth grade I would immediately know that they were faking whatever else was purportedly Canadian in the book or were edited by an American editor who didn't know any better. It's one of those things that immediately places where people are from for me. (I grew up in the Lower Mainland of BC in the 90s)
posted by urbanlenny at 7:44 PM on May 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth I agree with most of the above.... excepting that 'fifth grade' is sometimes used in the perfect tense ie:
"I'm going to grade 5 in sept!"
"I have 2 children - one in grade 5 and one in high school"
"what grade are you in? I'm in grade 5"


"this is 5th grade material"
posted by mce at 8:13 PM on May 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Since it's a memoir, I would strongly advocate using the phrasing chosen by the people who are writing about their own lives. If the people who emigrated to the US use "fifth grade" rather than "grade five", that's a small usage note that some readers will pick up on and some won't, and which conveys something about the writers's experiences.
posted by Lexica at 9:07 PM on May 29, 2019 [10 favorites]

Without knowing for sure whether there is a difference, I would question the relevance of the experience of Anglo Canadians in an Anglo province in this case. It is quite possible that Quebec residents use different terminology. I know French schools in Ontario refer to them as 5e annee on their website, which might mean they would use Fifth year/grade in English. An anglo-quebecer might use a different phrase if they correspond to how the words are used in French because the core curriculum and other documents will have been written in French originally.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:49 AM on May 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

As a counter point, I live in Toronto and grew up in Southern Ontario and I have certainly used and heard both. Grade 5 would be the more common of the two if I had to choose, but no one in places where I’ve lived would bat an eye at the use of fifth grade and it certainly doesn’t flag anyone as an American.
posted by scrute at 5:18 AM on May 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I went to French school, so I used cinquième année. If I was speaking in English, I would have probably used grade five or fifth grade interchangeably. Although I found a recent article in the Montreal Gazette that refers to it as "Grade 5".
posted by exolstice at 6:01 AM on May 30, 2019

I grew up and did all my education in English schools in Montreal (which I believe zadcat is aware of, but I should have made explicit in my comment). Fifth grade pings me as American, and my cousin who teaches in Toronto and grew up there always uses grade x.

I might call grade nine sec(ondaire) 3, but probably only in a context about government and education.
posted by jeather at 7:09 AM on May 30, 2019

Canada Press Style Guide says Grade 5 is correct.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:55 AM on May 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

jeather: I might call grade nine sec(ondaire) 3, but probably only in a context about government and education.

That's a good point about grade nine. To the OP, in case it matters, in the province of Quebec high school starts in grade 7, and then there is CEGEP after that (I'm not sure if it has always been this way). This might help for context in some of the recollections.
Wikipedia: Education in Quebec
posted by Laura in Canada at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2019

Grade 5 in anglophone Ontario. I asked my francophone Quebecer boyfriend and he says the grades go primaire 1-6 and then high school (école secondaire) 1-5 (then CEGEP). So grade 8 for me was high school 2 for him. I'm not sure what an anglophone school in Montreal would use though.
posted by randomnity at 10:35 AM on May 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

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