Across the world summer is a season of the year and we all talk about 'the summer' - do you have plans for the summer ? etc.

But In America it is often taken to refer to the period of college vacation when students take temporary employment etc. e.g. She did charity work over the summer. This would not imply necessarily the climatic summer season, so much as the college vacation.

It is my belief that we do not use summer in this way in Britain, unless we say something like What are you doing over the summer break?

Can anyone supply further insight into this different nuance which is placed on what is simply a season of the year?

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    It can refer to "summer break" when one or both of the speakers is a student. The question "What are you doing this summer?", when posed to a college student, is probably asking about internships or summer employment or possibly additional courses in a summer program or educational travel, not about where the student plans to kick back and relax for a couple of those weeks, on vacation.
    – TimR
    Nov 13, 2015 at 15:36
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    So summer only ever refers to astronomical or meteorological summer elsewhere? How sad to live in such a literal-minded place as Not-America sounds like, and how difficult it must be to keep track of when summer begins and ends in each locale. :)
    – choster
    Nov 13, 2015 at 15:50
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    @TimRomano That is what I meant. But this type of use seems to me to extend to the wider society outside of college students etc. The summer seems to have a specific calendar-informed connotation in America, which I have not encountered elsewhere.
    – WS2
    Nov 13, 2015 at 15:50
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    I don't think about the time between the end of Spring semester and the start of Fall semester as a break. I think of breaks as interruptions during a semester. So Fall Break and Spring Break refer to the week or so off in the middle of the semester. But school is over after finals in the Spring and does not start up again until the first day of the Fall semseter. So it's just "summer".
    – Jim
    Nov 13, 2015 at 16:11
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    AFAIK, in the US "over the summer" always refers to a time period in the summer, whether or not the context is a break from school. I don't know anyone who would use such an expression to refer to such a school break in the winter, for instance. Can you point to a reference that gave you this idea?
    – Drew
    Nov 13, 2015 at 16:33

1 Answer 1


In the realm of education, summer can indeed refer to the break between the end of the spring term and the beginning of the fall term.

Those labels themselves should illustrate, however, that seasons in a particular context need not correspond to their astronomical or meteorological definitions. The spring semester, for example, typically begins in January— spring break may well come and go before the vernal equinox. A student who says I'm taking a Shakespeare course in the spring to another student will be understood to be referring to the academic term. If the same student said we're going to go camping in the spring, it is less clear without additional context whether she means the spring term or to the end of winter. A non-student would no doubt assume the latter.

  • For institutions on the semester system (e.g. University of Texas at Austin), the spring term typically ends in early- to mid-May, and classes resume for the autumn in mid- to late August.
  • For institutions on the quarter system (e.g. University of California, Los Angeles), the spring session typically ends in mid-June, with fall quarter classes beginning in late September.
  • Institutions on the trimester system (e.g. Dartmouth College) have a similar calendar to the quarter system, but with an abbreviated summer session.

Summer is contextual in other seasonally-influenced fields as well. To meteorologists, it begins at the start of June, not with the solstice. For American workers, it is commonly the period between the Memorial Day holiday in late May to the Labor Day holiday in early September. And for the U.S. Department of Energy, it corresponds to the driving season which runs from April to September.

  • +1. And I will specifically point out the that for working adult Americans, who are not tied to the school year, summer simply means the season. If I were to ask a coworker "Have any plans over the summer?", I would be inquiring if he's going on vacation sometime during the summer (which in my industry is the slow season).
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 13, 2015 at 18:05
  • @DanBron Unless that working American adult is a teacher, of course :)
    – VampDuc
    Nov 13, 2015 at 18:24
  • @VampDuc Well, I did qualify it with "who are not tied to the school year" :)
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 13, 2015 at 18:24
  • @DanBron Ah, your comment got broken up weirdly on my device and I missed the line.
    – VampDuc
    Nov 13, 2015 at 18:25
  • And the comma you used after "adult Americans" made a difference in meaning. Nov 14, 2015 at 2:24

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