leave

I have left my leave. In the spring of 2020 I was on university-funded leave. Then I took unpaid leave to go be an NEH Public Scholar for six months. Now I'm returning to my university job six weeks early so that someone else can go on sick leave. (Then I'll go back on unpaid leave in April and finish off the NEH grant.) That leaves me thinking about leave, and how Americans sometimes ask me to explain some BrE uses of it. 

Leave, a noun meaning 'time off from work/service' is general English, but it's used for more kinds of time off in BrE than in AmE. The leave in all of these expressions is not "I'm leaving! Bye-bye!", but that you have been given leave (permission) to go. And so...

Leave of absence is used in both places, but more in North America—and I am guessing that's because using leave on its own is less clear to those who use it less:

To be on leave is general English. The OED says that Americans can also be on a leave, but the corpus data I can find shows that as being more common in Canada than in the US. (On a leave of absence is much more common than on a leave on its own.)

In employment   

Several modifications of ___ leave seem to be used in both countries:

  • paid/unpaid leave
  • sick/medical leave
  • maternity/parental/paternity leave

...though you find all the parental leave expressions above, plus adoption leave much more in the UK because there's just much more of it to be had over here. Maternity leave also pops up as mat leave (and in Canada too) because familiarity breeds abbreviation.

Some BrE kinds of leave that aren't expressed that way in AmE are:

  • annual leave: one's annual (BrE) holiday / (AmE) vacation allowance. It's not uncommon in the UK to get out-of-office email messages that say "I'm on annual leave until [date] and will not be checking my email during this time".  
  • compassionate leave [thanks for reminding me, Biochemist]: time off to deal with some personal crisis, often a bereavement (bereavement leave also shows up in the corpus) or a family illness.
  • research leave: what those in US universities call sabbatical. (Sometimes in the UK, one runs across sabbatical leave.)
  • study leave: time off to do some training or education. I don't know of a US equivalent for this. Is there one?
  • garden(ing) leave: a euphemistic way of talking about some kind of paid suspension of work, often to keep someone out of trouble before they exit a job. This has come up before in this old post and was also an item in one of my Untranslatable Octobers.

Some or many of them might come from the military (see below) via the civil service. 

Some of kinds of leave in the UK might be threatened by post-Brexit degradation of working conditions. (Maternity leave looks ok for the time being, but holiday/vacation pay is a worry. See here.)  

The only ___ leave I can find that is used more in AmE than in BrE is administrative leave. In the news, it's what you see happening to police who shoot people while the shooting is being investigated.  American police do a whole lot more shooting people than (the mostly un-firearmed) British police. It's also used for other kinds of "we can't fire you yet" or "we don't want to fire you, but we need to look like we're doing something". In one British article (about doping in competitive cycling), administrative leave is followed by "sometimes called garden leave". While garden leave might hint at an impropriety, the hint is not as strong as it is for administrative leave. (E.g. some examples of garden leave seem to be about preventing employees from having access to company secrets before they move to another company.)

 In military service

Shore leave is general (military) English. I'd presume most of the military leaves are common to both. Furlough (my 2020 US>UK Word of the Year) is another military term for leave, with more meanings in AmE than BrE.

The military term absent without leave goes back to the 17th century, but the OED also marks it as "U.S. Military" in two senses: the offen{c/s}e of being absent without permission, and a person who is absent without permission. The acronym AWOL is originally AmE in all its senses.

 In immigration

As well as getting permission to go, you can get permission to stay. A BrE phrase every UK immigrant knows well is leave to remain. That is, permission to stay in the country. BrE indefinite leave to remain is equivalent to the AmE green card or general English permanent residence. Leave to remain can also be  temporary or limited (which are not the same thing), and discretionary, which is used in extraordinary circumstances (as for asylum seekers).

Not that kind of leave

And as long as I'm talking about noun uses of leave, take leave of (someone) is general (maybe a bit old-fashioned?) English, but take leave of one's senses ('stop thinking normally') seems rather BrE:


 

What have I forgotten? Let us know in the comments:

58 comments

  1. Long Service Leave. I think this is thing in the UK, it is in Australia. Extra days of paid time off you get after you've been at an employer long enough.

    Pandemic Leave - I've seen this used in two ways. First, paid time off when you are supposed to be isolating or quarantined after contact or a test. And also the more cynical - somebody who has been laid off because of lockdowns or loss of business.

    Talking of familiarity breeding abbreviation, what does that say about the Australian sickie (Sick Leave)? Or for that matter, "chucking a sickie" - which is claiming to be sick when you're really doing something else.

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  2. US federal employees also say they're on annual leave, etc. Also can be marked AWOL. In my office we would joke about being on "in office annual", perhaps when assignments were lacking or one was not focusing on work as they should.

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    1. +1 to this. "Annual leave" is the official category. We also have a Leave Bank, and a category called "Use or Lose Leave" (for a no ual leave hours in excess of the amount we are allowed to carry into a new "Leave year")

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    2. We also have "Leave without Pay" (mostly because we don't have maternity or parental leave)

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    3. To me, "I'm on annual leave" implies that I only go on leave once a year. Like "annual celebration" or "annual stock-take". But people say this even when they go on leave on several separate occasions in a 12-month period.

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    4. Yes, because here in the UK the term annual leave refers to the allocation of normal paid time off (outside of other categories like maternity, parental, etc.) employers give to their employees, and this time off is expected to be spread out rather than taken in one go, for obvious operational reasons. But this is also down to the fact that UK annual leave tends to be much more generous than in the US.

      Just as an example and not to sound like I'm gloating to my American compatriots not employed in the UK, when I was working in what I thought at the time was a reasonably good receptionist job in the early 2000s at a now defunct tech company, I was able to take one 'vacation' at the end of the year during the Christmas shut-down, having accrued just enough to go away for about 3 weeks. Fast forward nearly two decades later working in the higher education sector in the UK, with my annual leave of 30 days, this actually amounts to more like 6 weeks off when you factor in weekends, not to mention the paid bank holidays. So rather than just one big end-of-year event, I could conceivably go away to sunnier climes - the azure waters of the Med or Aegean just a few hours away by plane - as many times as my bank balance would allow. That was, of course, before the pandemic.

      Having said all that, it does still seem strange every time I receive an out of office auto-reply that reads something like 'I will be taking annual leave from 1-2 April 2021 inclusive...'

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  3. I know via friends that some US tech companies offer “sabbaticals” to their employees. As far as I know, these are not strictly for the employee to go off and do research, but I don’t know the boundaries of what these sabbaticals are allowed for. I have a feeling they might be akin to “study leave” in some cases.

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    1. My company is one of those tech companies that offer sabbaticals. I’ve actually never heard of other companies offering it, but I suppose they might. In our case, it’s a perk you earn after every five years at the company: an extra four weeks of vacation. You can use that time however you want, but if you choose to visit a new country, the company will pay for flights and offer a per diem for you and a companion.

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    2. I suspect we work at the same company! E***? I'm eligible for my first this year!

      My dad worked at another tech company that offers sabbaticals. In case, they actually live up to the name - they're every seven years. His was also just basically additional vacation.

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    3. We do! I’ve been eligible for my first for a couple years, but unfortunately COVID dashed my plans. Keeping my fingers crossed for later this year.

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    4. The Methodist church in the UK offers its ministers regular sabbaticals - every 7 years, I think. This is a 3 month leave of absence, but they are supposed to do something useful with it, probably study. Same applies to the Anglican church, but they are less frequent.

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    5. Which is rather recursive when you consider that sabbatical is based on the Jewish word shabbat (=sabbath) and the sabbath is the one day that ministers of the church work while the laity are supposed to rest. The seven year period derives, I suspect, from Leviticus 25.

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  4. Study leave can be the odd day here and there. A sabbatical, as I understand it, is a chunk

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  5. I'm British and have never been to the USA; I taught in universities in GB and Italy (I am now ancient), and everyone always said "sabbatical". I'd never heard of "research leave" until I read this post. H'm.

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  6. In frustration in a moment of crossness, I might say to my complaining partner to 'just leave it alone', meaning I am fed up with the discussion.

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    1. That's general English, and it's the verb 'leave'. This post is just about the noun. (You can tell it's a verb because it can be made past tense: 'they left it alone'.)

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  7. Just sticking in a comment-catching comment!

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  8. Compassionate leave. It may be more used in military contexts, but we would all understand it to mean permission to leave duty to attend a sick or dying close relative, for example.

    I’ve only heard gardening leave in civil service (BrE) applications - a hiatus in which one’s specialist knowledge expires before starting a new position in business. or vice versa, I suppose.

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    1. Oh, 'compassionate leave' was one I meant to include! I'm going to sneakily sneak that in.

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  9. The main use I know for "gardening leave" is when someone hands in their notice at work and is heading off to work for a competitor, so they are put on gardening leave so they can't contact clients to try to bring them to their new employer and so any insider information they have is out of date by the time they get there.

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  10. There's also (at least in the UK) "exam[ination] leave" for students to be taken off normal teaching schedules while they have exams.

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  11. In the same sense (permission) as in leave to remain, it can be necessary to seek leave to appeal certain types of court judgement.

    Is 'unfirearmed' (or 'firearmed', or 'to firearm') really a word?

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    1. Surely you've learned after all these years not to ask the 'is it a word' question to a linguist?

      I used it. It's a word now! :)

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    2. I completely phnergl, Lynne.

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    3. In Australia, going to the highest court requires "special leave". The "to appeal" seems to have dropped off.

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  12. What about the classic Brexit nonsense: "Leave means leave"

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  13. A couple of other military-specific types of leave include:
    embarkation and disembarkation leave - short periods of leave prior to or on completion of an overseas posting;
    re-engagement leave - an additional allocation of days for having extended one's contract of military service
    and terminal leave - somewhat akin to Unknown's long service leave.
    There can also be block-leave - when the whole of a unit or military establishment closes down for a period of time, usually at tradutional holiday times of the year, somewhat similar to a factory closing for similar reasons, meaning that everyone is forced to take their holiday/vacation at the same time. I think the other important distinction with military leave is that it really does require permission to be actively given. Failure get permission results in the aforementioned AWOL. This is in contrast with many civilian work environments where the worker has greater freedom to unilaterally say when they wish to go on holiday/vacation/leave (except if you work in Japan, where as I understand it, the obligation to consider one's co-workers is paramount).

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  14. Zouk Delors said "Is 'unfirearmed' (or 'firearmed', or 'to firearm') really a word?"
    Since 'armed' and 'unarmed' are acceptable forms from the verb to arm, being more specigfic about the type of weapon - a firearm - seems entirely reasonable. But I'm guessing you were joking...

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  15. In the US "study leave" would just be "away for training". This can be for the day or for an extended period of 3-4 months. Often just "training" would be used. E.g. my niece is in Texas for training for the next few weeks. My dept secretary will away from the office next week for training. Or many faculty use their summer time for training (study, learning new skills).

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  16. Every time I enter the UK on my US passport it gets stamped with Leave to Enter, which always gives me a laugh.

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  17. Here's another one; way leave.
    It means permission to run services, such as broadband cables or water pipes across a property. Generally money changes hands to arrange it then future owners of the land are also bound by it. To my BrE ears it sounds old fashioned, but it's still the correct term

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    1. That would be called an "easement" in the US.

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    2. It is an easement in UK too but a specific subset covering such things as utilities, as Chris explained. A wayleave also implies a right for a workman to enter the part of the property covered by the wayleave to make repairs etc to the utility connection.

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  18. In Canada, union contracts - and management benefits - often contain many types of leaves: Long Service leaves, as mentioned above, Special Leave for those types of things that mean you have to take short unplanned periods off of work, e.g. when something breaks and you have to wait for the repair person (I live in the far north and special leave was often called "Propane leave" for those periods of time when it got so cold that you had to stay home and keep your propane from gelling) and Manager's leave being an additional vacation like leave that managers might get. Leave is easier to negotiate than wage increases. I have to say what freaks me out though is that I understand that in some parts of the states, there is no legislated right to maternity and paternity leave.

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  19. I was recently told on another forum (talking about out-of-office emails) that "I am on leave until [date]" would not be understood by Americans - something I wasn't previously aware of.

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    1. Hmm, that sounds very strange to me. Was it clear from the context that the problem was the word "leave"? I ask because the line you quote also includes "until," which is potentially ambiguous, at least for this AmE speaker.

      I thought there was a discussion here but the closest I can find is on StackExchange, where it focuses on "to" in a range -- which for me is exactly synonymous with "until" and would not include the [date]. https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/44686/through-or-to-for-expression-of-range?answertab=votes#tab-top

      If I say, "I'm on leave until/to Friday," that likely means I'm in the office again on Friday. If I'll be out Friday too, I need to say, "I'm on leave through Friday." The "through" clarifies that the leave includes Friday.

      And honestly, to avoid the whole mess, what I really say in my OOO message is, "I'm away/on vacation/in all-day meetings, returning Monday."

      "Leave" might raise a question about what sort of leave it is, but that's just a matter of being nosy. And it's not the sort of word I'd naturally choose, unless modified by "paternity," for example. But it's perfectly understandable.

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    2. This was on Stack Exchange. What I actually suggested was "I am currently on leave", but was told that, to Americans, 'leave' usually implies a long period of absence. (The questioner had asked if they could say "I am vacationing", but I thought that this implied being away from home, which a business contact doesn't need to know.)

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    3. Kate, I've had the same question many times. Being 'on (annual) leave' in vacation messages does throw a lot of Americans.

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    4. Ah, yes, that would indeed throw me. I’d assume it was for longer than a two-week vacation.

      Where I work, it’s pretty standard to say that you’re on vacation/holiday (we’re global, both forms work), and to further specify how much you will or won’t be checking email - that’s the main reason for saying why you’re away, actually. You don’t interrupt someone’s vacation lightly!

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    5. I think the standard would be something like “I am out of the office until [date]”, and maybe a suggestion that a caller should contact someone else if they needed help before you returned.

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    6. When I was working closely with an American company, their employees talked of taking PTO, which I eventually realised meant "Personal Time Off", or part of their annual leave.....

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    7. That's actually "paid time off". It's mostly used by places that don't have separate vacation and sick days. My last place was like that. The only extra paid days you could get was for bereavement, and that was capped at two.

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    8. Thanks. The more I learn about working conditions in much of the USA, the gladder I am that I don't have to submit to them!

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    9. I'm certainly jealous of the work-life balance in other countries! Working to live vs living to work, and all that.

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    10. To make things even more complicated, "personal days" are sometimes something separate from PTO or vacation days. Vacation/PTO time is owed to you and is a liability on the accounting books. If you have a balance when you leave employment, they usually have to pay you for it. But a "personal day" is an extra day that doesn't count as a liability on the books and typically expires at the end of the year whether you use it or not. At both places I've worked, vacation/PTO could be used in partial-day increments, but the "personal day" could only be used for a single, whole day.

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  20. There's a phrase 'by your leave' that must have something to do with permission, or rather the lack of it - "he walked straight past me without a by your leave" is said indignantly in music-hall routines (BrE).
    I don't think I would use the phrase, or hear it in normal speech - is it archaic?

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    1. Yes, "by" (or "with") "your leave" means 'with your permission' and I can't imagine anyone using it these days, except facetiously.

      The noun, btw, is a single, hyphenated, word:

      'without so much as a by-your-leave'

      It's only in that phrase that you're likely to hear the word these days, I reckon.

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  21. I would expect "without so much as a 'by your leave'". See https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/without-so-much-as-a-by-your-leave.html

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  22. Another type of leave is 'retention leave'. I'd never heard of it, because I work on a contract, but a staff member where I work (here in South Australia) recently referred to having accumulated 'annual, retention and long service leave', and they were going to use up all the leave before doing more work. I don't know how widespread the term is, but a definition from an SA government website is: 'A skills and experience leave entitlement provided to eligible long term employees who have completed 15 years of effective service.'

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  23. Two comments.

    First, on wayleave and easement, technically in English usage, an easement is a right by the owner of one piece of land to do something on another piece of land, usually to cross it. The right, sort of, belongs to the land not the owner. It's a right of property and is usually permanent. A wayleave is a permission to do something, e.g. run a power cable or a gas main, across someone else's land but it belongs to the person given the right not the owner of a specific piece of land. It's not a right of property. It also may be temporary and be paid for by an annual fee rather than a capital payment.

    Second 'administrative leave' - in the UK that's usually called being 'suspended'. Because it's ill regarded and legally risky to sack someone on the spot without investigating the circumstances and giving them the right to explain themselves and because letting people who have a disciplinary hanging over them work normally might also be disruptive or imply the employer isn't as uneasy as he or she claims to be if the person is allowed to carry on working as usual, the possible rotten apple might be suspended during the process. As it hasn't been determined whether they have done what they are accused of doing, they will often be entitled to go on being paid.

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  24. "The leave in all of these expressions is not "I'm leaving! Bye-bye!", but that you have been given leave (permission) to go."

    I suspect few if any Americans know this. I think the general assumption here is that it's called "leave" because you leave the premises.

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  25. Where I work (US), there's Professional Leave (aka Staff Development leave). Which is for training, or conferences, or such. Short term, one day or a few days. Same as study leave?

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  26. As alluded to above, the US Federal Government uses the term leave for both military and civilian employees. We have Annual Leave, Sick Leave, Leave Without Pay (LWOP), and yes, we can be AWOL. I only learned about five years ago that this is not the normal terminology in the US when I had to ask what “PTO” means.

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    1. Same here -- nearly two decades now in the US federal government, and I only know about "PTO" from working with contractors. It sounds like there is no such public-private divide in BrE parlance.

      Add to the list "Emergency Leave" for military personnel with a family, well, emergency; and "convalescent leave" (like sick leave but it isn't charged against your earned leave balance).

      Also possibly noteworthy (though drifting from the term "leave") is the US military distinction between leave (chargeable and non-chargeable), pass periods (regular and special), and permissive TDY... I never learned from any of the RAF I've met if they make a similar distinction.

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)