"Leave" means one is not here.
"Absence" means one is not here.
"Leave of absence" does also mean one is not here.

My explanation: "Leave" means "I leave something" - namely my absence - where I'm usually expected to be present. So "I'm not at my desk, I only left my absence there".
Is this correct?
But even if so, I'm wondering why this phrase exists at all, instead of just saying "I'm on leave" or "I'm absent"?

  • In the set phrase leave of absence, the noun leave has the specific meaning permission to do something (that was in fact the original meaning; the leave = vacation and leave = depart senses are much later). Sep 29, 2016 at 12:32
  • There's many multi-word phrases in English (and other languages) that mean something other than what the words mean separately, and might as well be treated as one word.
    – LawrenceC
    Sep 29, 2016 at 12:52
  • @FumbleFingers Not quite. Leave = "depart" derives from the unrelated verb meaning "leave behind": when you depart you leave your prior location behind you. The leave in leave of absence derives from the same stem as love: like "approval", leave originally implied your superior's "liking" for the proposed action. Sep 29, 2016 at 13:13
  • @StoneyB: Ah, right. I just glanced at OED's "first citation" for both the noun and the verb, but didn't notice that they actually have different origins. Sep 29, 2016 at 17:11

3 Answers 3


You're looking at slightly the wrong definition of leave. "Leave" here is not a verb, it's the noun meaning

a period of time when someone has special permission to be away from a job or from military service

or slightly more loosely, "permission to be absent".

You can see that it's a noun phrase and not a verb from the way people use it - no one says "I left my absence", it's used in phrases like

How to ask for a leave of absence


He was granted leave of absence

  • 1
    From Pride and Pejudice Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person. Leave can mean permission directly, as well as the period of time. I have seen "give you leave" used in more contemporary English as well when trying to affect a certain tone.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 29, 2016 at 12:46


The noun leave used in leave of absence has nothing to do with the verb leave—the two words are etymologically distinct and only the accidents of historical sound change have given them the same modern form.

The noun leave has the same etymological root as love and lief and means "approval" or "permission". Into the 20th century it was common to say "by your leave" (= "with your permission") as a mild apology for pushing through a crowd, or for introducing a possibly awkward fact or topic into a discussion.

The word was quite early associated specifically with permission to depart from the presence or jurisdiction of a superior—in Hamlet, for instance, Laertes asks for Claudius' "leave and favor to return to France"—and we still speaking of "taking our leave" when we depart a situation which calls for more or less formal farewells.

The phrase leave of absence seems to have arisen in military contexts, where a soldier must have his officer's permission to be absent from duty; this was abbreviated to simple leave by the middle of the 18th century, and that was in turn extended to designate the period of absence by the early 19th century.


Leave of absence is an idiom, which is basically used for framing the sentence, which means,"a period of time away from one's job".

  • -1 for lack of a reference. It is not difficult to include a link to a dictionary and to include that dictionary's definition. Sep 29, 2016 at 19:31

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