Canvas and Canvass

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
What is the difference between canvas and canvass?

Canvas is heavy cloth.
To canvass means to survey opinion or to solicit votes.

Canvas and Canvass

The words canvas and canvass sound identical, but their meanings are very different.


The noun canvas (with one s at the end) refers to a heavy woven cloth of hemp, flax, or cotton. It is typically used for sails, tents and paintings. The word canvas is also used figuratively for the floor of a boxing or wrestling ring (i.e., they are often not made of canvas).


The verb to canvass has several closely related meanings. It can mean:
To collect opinions.
  • Can you canvass the local area to determine the support for the bypass?
To electioneer (i.e., to collect votes through persuasion of voters in a political campaign).
  • Mr Millar will arrange for Joan's team to canvass High Street and Bond Street on Saturday. We need as much support from the west side of town as possible.
To examine closely.
  • Penny canvassed every shop in Wigan before she found the right shoes.
To ask around.
  • The investigation team will canvass the neighborhood to see whether there were any witnesses to the crash.

Canvass Used as a Noun

Nowadays, canvass is used as a noun to denote the processes above. For example:
  • Did your canvass of the local area succeed in determining the support for the bypass?
  • I heard Joan's canvass was postponed due to the storm.
Note: The noun canvassing is more common than canvass. It can be substituted into both examples above.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
What are nouns? What are verbs? List of easily confused words