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How do those terms differ from each other?

downtime

North American A time of reduced activity or inactivity: everyone needs downtime to unwind ODO

spare time

Noun

  1. time available for hobbies and other activities that you enjoy: free time

time off - a time period when you are not required to work; he requested time off to attend his grandmother's funeral

  1. time that is free from duties or responsibilities: free time

leisure, leisure time - time available for ease and relaxation; his job left him little leisure WordNet by Fatlex

Please, compare:

Everyone needs downtime to unwind.

Everyone needs time off to unwind.

Everyone needs free time to unwind.

Everyone needs spare time to unwind.

-and-

Annette and her husband use their free time to attend Chicago Bears games, play with their puppy, and spend time with their new granddaughter Annabelle.

Annette and her husband use their spare time to attend Chicago Bears games, [...]

Annette and her husband use their time off to attend Chicago Bears games, [...]

Annette and her husband use their downtime to attend Chicago Bears games, [...]

  • 1
    IMHO, time off means I don't have to go to the shop and can sleep until noon. "Spare time" may come my way at work or at home, and is time when I can attend to small chores, minor projects or surf the latest questions on ELU. "Down time," a more recent entry in the language, can also describe time at home or at work. As the definition indicates, it's a time of reduced activity, perhaps occasioned by a broken water main or a delayed shipment of critical widget parts. If I could document any of this, it'd go as an answer. As it is, it's just my American ear. – Rob_Ster Feb 28 '16 at 1:33
  • It needs to be noted that "downtime" has several different connotations. It could simply be time off, it could be time when the factory line is shut down and you're not drawing pay, it could be when you've been laid off. – Hot Licks Feb 28 '16 at 4:54
1

"Free time" and "spare time" are mostly synonymous and imply that your existing or habitual schedule has leftover time that you can allocate as you see fit. The dictionary notes about hobbies or "free from responsibilities" is referring to this.

Even though I work 50 hours a week, I still find free time to spend with my family.

Even though I work 50 hours a week, I still find spare time on the weekends.

"Downtime" and "time off" both imply some form of disruption in your existing or habitual schedule. The key difference between these and "free time" is that "downtime" is a change and "free time" is part of the normal schedule.

I have been working in this industry for 20 years without a vacation. I need some time off.

It has been go, go, go all year. I'm looking forward to some downtime this fall.


The difference between "downtime" and "time off" is mostly in connotation but for the scope of this question they are synonymous. If you are curious about the nuances between those two in particular, feel free to ask a separate question.


To explicitly address your examples:

Everyone needs downtime to unwind.

Everyone needs time off to unwind.

These mean, "Everyone needs to take a break from the normal schedule to unwind."

Everyone needs free time to unwind.

Everyone needs spare time to unwind.

These mean, "Everyone should allocate time to unwind in their schedule."

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks for your answer. How about "downtime" in "In my downtime, I like to [relax and hang out with my friends]"? Does such phrasing sound any diomatic of AmEng to you? – Elian Feb 28 '16 at 17:27
  • Yes, you can use downtime this way. It does carry a connotation that the time is a little harder to predict than something like time off but the difference is subtle. Your phrasing would be considered normal AmEng by native speakers. – MrHen Feb 29 '16 at 17:18

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