According to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionaries Online, leave is an uncountable noun when it is used to mean "a period of time away from work for a holiday/vacation or for a special reason." Thus, one should say or write,

He's taken sick leave since last week.

However, I found the following sentences both added an 'a' before leave. Are both "without a" and "with a" in front of leave acceptable, even though the dictionaries I've consulted with don't show that leave is singular?

At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. (from Job's letter to Apple Staff as he takes new medical leave of absence)

Steve Jobs' decision to take a medical leave from Apple Inc. was probably triggered either by an infection, a rejection episode related to his recent liver transplant or, most likely, a recurrence of his pancreatic cancer, experts said Monday. (from The Los Angeles Times) P.S. One can find the usage, "to take a week's/a month's leave", in dictionaries. But, I don't think it is relevant to my question. It seems just another usage.

2 Answers 2


When used as part of the phrase leave of absence, it's common to use an 'a' before leave. It can also be pluralized to leaves of absence if need be. E.g.

Did you hear Bob had to take a medical leave of absence?

Mary is out again. That makes five leaves of absence in as many years.


Both constructions are correct. The different usages arise from leave's status as both a noun, and a portion of the mostly archaic verb phrase to take leave.

When it's used in the phrase, take a medical leave, leave is acting as a noun, and it's entirely akin to the word vacation or break. Medical acts an adjective describing the noun. As a noun, leave usually takes the preposition on, when it's used as an indirect object.

When it's used in the phrase, take medical leave, take leave is acting as a verb phrase, meaning "to depart," and medical is an adverb describing how the leave was taken.

Here are some usages of leave as a noun:

I've been on leave for 6 months; no one has noticed and phoned me to return just yet!

How long can the soldiers stay on leave? The Germans have just crossed the Maginot Line.

I gave PFC Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson leave to do as they liked; I certainly didn't order the Code Red.

Here are some usages of to take leave as an archaic verb:

I took leave of my guests after making the requisite excuses, and prepared my pistols in the drawing room.

When shall we take leave of dreary England and embark to the warm beaches of the Azores?

I have taken leave of my employment with Mr. Holmes and wish to pursue the happiest of marriages with you, my dear Ms. Morstan.

  • Shouldn't medical change into medically when used as an adverb? Cf: "set him completely free". When an adjective is used, doesn't it require "a"? For example: take part -> take an important part. Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 4:36
  • @Ilya: yes, I think Billare is wrong about "take medical leave", which I don't think is a version of "take leave", but parses as "take [medical leave]". I also find "take a medical leave" odd, and would have assumed that it was an error (but not "take a medical leave of absence", which is fine, as Dusty says). Otherwise a good answer.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 17:16

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