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A private student's story contained the cited line below, which sounded awkward and strange.

“I was on camping with my family”

I know you can “go on holiday”, but you can't “go on camping”. However, if a person can “be on holiday”, can they also “be on camping”? I don't think so, unless it is slang. Is it? Is it colloquial? Suffice to say I have never spent a single minute under a tent in my entire life and anything to do with Scouts and Girl Guides has always left me utterly indifferent.

So which is the most idiomatic? Are any of suggested edits incorrect? Why? Is there perhaps a better alternative?

  1. I was camping with my family
  2. I was on a camping holiday with my family
  3. I went camping with my family
  4. I was away camping with my family

Bonus question

I wonder, why do we say ‘on holiday’ or ‘on vacation’ but not ‘on camping’?

7
  • 3
    Is the student French? Un camping is a campsite, which could lead to confusion. Idiomatic English is 1 and 3: camping is usually a holiday so that doesn't need to be mentioned (2); and one doesn't normally go camping unless it's away from home, so 4 has too many words too.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 9, 2015 at 22:14
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    To an American ear it sound like one of those Britishisms, like "to hospital".
    – Hot Licks
    May 9, 2015 at 22:17
  • @AndrewLeach an Italian student, knowing that camping is a type of holiday he must have thought he could say "on camping". Thanks for telling me about 1 and 3.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 9, 2015 at 22:21
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    @Hot Licks: Tsk. To a British ear it sound (sic) like one of those (ignorant) Americanisms! :) May 9, 2015 at 22:34
  • 1
    I think the main difference between "holiday" and "camping" is that holiday is a noun and camping is a verb. Therefore how you treat them is completely different.
    – neil
    May 12, 2015 at 0:39

3 Answers 3

1

We do not say 'on camping' for the same reason we do not say, 'on holidaying'.

Compare

holiday - noun

to holiday - verb

camp - noun

to camp - verb

Examples

"I like being on holiday." <---> "I like being in camp." [correct]

"I like holidaying in France." <---> "I like camping in France" [correct]

"I went on holidaying with my family." <---> "I went on camping with my family." [Incorrect]

Note

In some languages (for example French) the English word 'camping' has been borrowed but changed into a noun. For example in French they talk about le camping (the camping). We don't do that in English -- we treat 'camping' as a present participle or gerund, not a noun.

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  • But camp is an established verb, so we say "I go camping whenever the opportunity arises" and we camped at the base". Holiday as a verb is rarer. Isn't *a camping holiday a noun also?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 15, 2015 at 11:17
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    'To holiday' is an established verb (look at any dictionary). In fact, 'to holiday' is not even rare, it is simply somewhat less common than 'to camp'. My point is that 'holiday' and 'camping' are different types of grammatical entitiy. 'Holiday' is a noun in the phrase 'on holiday' whereas 'camping' is not a noun in the phrase, 'on camping'. Oct 15, 2015 at 11:28
  • You say, "Isn't a camping holiday a noun also?" Yes it is, and you can of course say, 'on a camping holiday.' or 'on camping holidays'. That is my point, you need a noun for the phrase to work. [Note: That doesn;t mean all nouns can be used that way. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition.] Oct 15, 2015 at 11:44
2

The last edit- "I was away camping with my family"- implies that the writer had distanced himself/herself from a particular location. This is not implied in the original, so I believe the word away should not be included in an alternate phrasing of the original sentence. Similarly, the third also implies such additional context not given in the original statement.

Although one may assume these things, it seems more becoming in my opinion to try to keep the original intent of the sentence to the best of your ability while trying to make it sound phonetically and grammatically correct.

As you have noted, it sounds improper to state that you were "on camping", which I take to mean simply that you were camping. So the first rephrasing of the original appears to be the most correct.

4
  • I wonder, why do we say "on holiday" but not "on camping"? In the story the person had left his hometown with his family, and came back months later (Yes, I know. Don't ask. Who goes camping for months! :))
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 9, 2015 at 22:24
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    Well, I live in the US currently and it is very strange to ever hear anyone say that they went "on holiday", we just say we went on vacation or went to (fill in location here). The only way I know about that phrasing is because I am very interested in the linguistic differences of the English language in America versus that in England.
    – Maddie S.
    May 9, 2015 at 22:34
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    @Mari-Lou: Being on holiday/vacation is very much part of the Protestant work ethic - everyone's at work 11 months of the year and on leave for a few weeks. Today's capitalist bosses continue the principle established by your illustrious forebears (the Roman emporers! :) of giving the workers bread, circuses, and holidays. I mean, c'mon! - would you work for a company that only offered camping? :) May 9, 2015 at 22:49
  • ...anyway - Google Books went camping with us:255 hits, went on camping with us:0 hits. It's non-standard - most likely, as Andrew says, a not-quite-fluent-in-English Francophone. May 9, 2015 at 22:53
2

I don't recall ever hearing your student's usage (in Britain).

Of your alternatives all work but I would avoid 4 unless you wanted a little emphasis on the away aspect (e.g. in reply to "why didn't I see you at the weekend?").

Your first suggestion is probably the best in general, as the second suggests (to me at least) a longer time away than might be intended. Your third would work for a specific occasion but would be more common in the sense "I went camping with my family every summer when I was a child". Choosing between these 3 options is a matter of the slightest nuance though.

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  • I wonder, why do we say "on holiday" but not "on camping"? In the story the person had left his hometown with his family, and came back months later (Yes, I know. Don't ask. Who goes camping for months! :)) –
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 9, 2015 at 22:31
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    It's not just "on holiday" but "--vacation", "--safari", "--a journey", etc., even "on a campsite". We might be on a train or bus but not a car. We might "go on a hike" or "go hiking". I'm not sure there's much logic to it. But there are probably several questions (new and old).
    – Chris H
    May 9, 2015 at 22:39

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