When is it appropriate to use a with vacation?

For instance, I found these examples in the dictionaries:

You look tired — you should take a vacation.

When are you taking vacation this year?

What's the difference between the two sentences? Why one of them uses a vacation and the other simply vacation?

And then, when do you say go on vacation and go on a vacation?

(Examples from the COCA)

A: Where do you go on vacation?

B: The beach. I love to travel, but I don't get to much.


A: Kids, we're about to go on a vacation!

B: Hooray! We're going to Disney World!

I'm so confused!

  • I could be wrong, but the sentence containing "take vacation this year" could be talking of the most important vacation. For example, with 25 days of paid vacation, I could take a one-day vacation five times, and then take vacation and go visit my American friend, staying there 20 work-days.
    – apaderno
    Jun 4, 2013 at 8:34

1 Answer 1


To take...

For me, this one always uses "a".

To take a vacation.

However, if you change it to a noun (gerund) it can lose the "a":

Taking vacations is my favorite past-time.

I speak American English, so, it may be that "to take vacation" doesn't sound wrong to British English speakers.

To go on...

Both with and without "a" sound fine, but possibly with a small difference.

I went on a vacation last week. Where did you go?

I went on vacation last week. Oh, that explains why you weren't in the office.

To me, "to go on a vacation" seems more exciting than without a. I would use the second version, if I do not intend to tell people where I went, but rather, just want to tell them I was gone (although they might still ask anyway).

The perspective is a little different.

I went on a vacation to Italy. (the place you went to)

I went on vacation from work. (the place you left)

But you could also say,

I went on vacation to the Bahamas.

To be on...

Same as To go on..., the article just changes the emphasis a bit.

Hello, this is XYZ Management Services. How can I help you?

Could you transfer me to Susan?

I'm sorry, she's on vacation till next week, do you need help with your account?

  • Actually, the sentence When are you taking vacation this year? was taken from an American dictionary, namely the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary. Dialectal difference?
    – stillenat
    Jun 4, 2013 at 8:11
  • I speak AmE as well, and you are right that taking vacation as in "I am taking vacation at the beach this year" is not idiomatic, but "I am taking my vacation at the beach" is perfectly fine. And so is the question, "When are you taking vacation this year?" when asked by my boss- to which I might answer, "I'm taking July 1st through July 16th" and December 9th through the end of the year."
    – Jim
    Jun 4, 2013 at 8:37
  • Xantix, it does sound wrong from a British perspective because, British people don't use the word "vacation". We use the word holiday.
    – Tristan
    Jun 4, 2013 at 12:23
  • I think that MW example is just plain wrong. Google Books has just 7 instances of he is taking vacation, and four of those are duplicates. Compare that to 1790 instances of he is taking a vacation, which is the only version that seems acceptable to me. Jun 4, 2013 at 15:59
  • @FumbleFingers In general I agree, but I think Jim has a point with "When are you taking vacation this year?" in a work context; I hear this often, with vacation being a shortened reference to your vacation time/days. In AmE, anyway. :)
    – WendiKidd
    Jun 5, 2013 at 14:21

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