This is the definition for 'the busman's holiday' from the book 'Common American Idioms':

Spending one’s holiday doing the same thing one would be doing at work.

Will it be different if I change 'would' in the definition into 'will'?

2 Answers 2


Would is a conditional modal verb, meaning it expresses possibility—something that could happen but hasn’t and doesn’t seem like it’s going to. Will is the typical indicative and indicates that something is assuredly going to happen in the future. If you were to change it to

Spending one’s holiday doing the same thing one will be doing at work.

the meaning of the sentence would be altered. Would indicates that you do while on holiday whatever you would have been doing if you hadn’t gone on holiday (almost like parallel timelines if that helps you conceptualize it). With will, it means you do what you are going to do at work once you get back from the holiday (like one sequential timeline).

  • 2
    I don't know why the original wasn't just Spending one’s holiday doing the same thing one does at work. They make things so hard.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 16 at 17:49
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    It's also worth saying that you will not be doing that at work while on holiday, because you are away and not at work at all. Commented Mar 17 at 0:32

Yes, to expand on what Yosef Baskin wrote in a comment, The sense with would is that if you weren't on holiday and were at work instead, you would be doing much the same thing today. With will, the sense is that what you are doing on holiday is much the same as what you will do when you go back to work. The difference may convey different imagery in the case of the busman. Imagine him driving the bus to Cleethorpes during the week, then riding on it to Cleethorpes when on holiday. Why it's listed as an Americanism I don't know. I thought it entirely a British saying. I've never heard an American not from England use it. And since I lived with a gal who drove a tour bus at the Grand Canyon, and then road the bus on her days off, I had the chance to trot this one out, and she had never heard of it.

  • Hence the title "Busman's Honeymoon" for one of Dorothy Sayers mystery novels.
    – user888379
    Commented Mar 18 at 17:50
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    Plus Americans never go "on holiday", only "on vacation".
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 19 at 1:35
  • @tchrist Yes, Americans use holiday differently. I mostly use it when I miss a patch of grass with the mower or miss a spot with the paint brush. We distinguish between official holidays and elective vacation time.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Mar 19 at 13:02

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