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What is the right expression: vacation days or days off?

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They're both fine, as are holidays and leave. In some jobs you'll also have rest days. –  FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 15:21
    
This might also be a good question for this area51 proposal: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/30887/… –  Jim Oct 24 '11 at 15:27

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Both expressions are grammatically correct. They mean slightly different things, however.

Vacation days generally refers to paid vacation, which are days for which you are paid to work, but don't actually come in. In most organizations, vacation days are usable at the employee's discretion, up to a certain yearly limit.

Days off is a more informal phrase that includes a variety of kinds of paid-not-to-work days, including sick leave, maternal/paternal leave, floating holidays, national holidays, etc. Vacation days are a subset of days off.

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I submit that "vacation days" is not a subset of "days off", because "days off" can also refer to unpaid time, in jobs that don't offer vacation days. Contrast this with "vacation" which is almost always paid. –  John Gietzen Oct 24 '11 at 15:52
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@John: It really depends on the particular job, or at least industry. For example, if your job isn't Monday–Friday by default (for example, hospital workers), then your days off might be the one or two days a week that correspond to other people's weekend. If you're on a salary, then these aren't strictly speaking unpaid, but they're not vacation, either. –  Marthaª Oct 24 '11 at 16:19
    
@Martha: True, but this is more evidence against it being called a subset. –  John Gietzen Oct 24 '11 at 17:29
    
Well, there's no doubt that vacation days is a subset of days off, where days off is what is listed in the answer shown. If you broaden the definition of days off, you will still be including vacation days as a subset. The only way vacation days isn't a subset of days off is if you deny the answer shown, and replace it with the notion that days off can only refer to unpaid time, or only refer to weekend or analogous. –  John Y Oct 24 '11 at 22:21

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