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When referring to being on holiday any of the following seems possible:

Wir sind über die Feiertage im Urlaub.
Wir sind über die Feiertage in Urlaub.
Wir sind über die Feiertage auf Urlaub.

If we trust Google Ngrams using "im" seems to be quite new. All versions were used the same in the eighties whereas in the seventies and earlier people preferred "auf".

enter image description here

Is there any different usage or connotation of one over the other variant? Is there any reason that "im" gained so much popularity over the other variants?

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The ngram is not suited to prove your assumption, that "im Urlaub sein" gained more popularity. Maybe just other usages of "im Urlaub" increased, like "im Urlaub erlebten wir das und das", "im Urlaub hatten wir schönes Wetter" and so forth. – John Smithers Dec 10 '11 at 19:20
Well, it also shows a similar trend when searching like this:… but I am aware that it does not prove anything. The trend is peculiar however. – Takkat Dec 10 '11 at 21:51
up vote 10 down vote accepted

All three variants are in use, quite common and (according to Duden) correct. I, personnally, would not be able to tell a difference, would however be (mildly) surprised to hear "auf Urlaub" in the southern parts of Germany.

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Nach Rücksprache scheinen alle drei Versionen richtig zu sein, korrekt sei 'in Urlaub'.

Ich komme aus dem Schwarzwald (SW-Deutschland, Allemanisch als "Heimatdialekt"). Ich bin über die Feiertage im Urlaub (bzw. in dem Urlaub), gehe aber in den Urlaub. In Urlaub sein kommt mir falsch vor, jemand der auf Urlaub ist würde ich als jemand aus Norddeutschland identifizieren.

I'm told that all three versions are common, correct is "in Urlaub".

I'm a native speaker from south-west Germany (black forest). I would say "ich bin im Urlaub" or "in dem Urlaub", but "ich gehe in den Urlaub" (I'm on the way). "In Urlaub sein" sounds a bit wrong to me. If people say "in Urlaub sein" or "auf Urlaub sein", I would think they come from northern Germany.

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Nach Rücksprache? Mit Konrad Duden, oder wem? :) Und was ist der Unterschied zw. 'korrekt' und 'richtig'? M.E. gibt es keinen. – user unknown Feb 1 '12 at 15:03

In my perception only "im Urlaub" is commonly in use. The other two variants may be legit. But I don't know anybody saying "in Urlaub" and I would say "auf Urlaub" is just slang.

In my opinion it's always best to say "im Urlaub" without regarding the context.

Nevertheless the Ngrams could be right, I'm too young for the other versions ;)

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Just a small addition:

"Auf Urlaub" appears to me to be a construction analogous to "auf Arbeit"/"auf der Arbeit".

Any takers?

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I live in Northern Germany and I hear "auf der Arbeit" pretty often but I have been told that this is a colloquial Northern German form. The correct standard German form is "bei der Arbeit". I occasionally hear "auf Urlaub" but "im Urlaub" is definitely the form I hear more frequenlty. – Giorgio Jan 8 '14 at 15:59

They mean different things.

Ich bin auf Urlaub. I'm on holidays. When your boss is asking you where Jürgen is, you'd never say er ist im Urlaub -- he is always auf Urlaub.

Ich habe im Urlaub mein Arm gebrochen. I broke my arm in [= during] the holidays. That said, auf dem Urlaub would not necessarily be incorrect.

Wir überquerten die Alpen, als wir in den Urlaub gefahren sind. We crossed the Alps when we were going 'into' the holidays, that is, going to the location. This one has a direction.

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"They mean different things." So what does, according to you, "Ich bin im Urlaub" (yes, I would say it this way) mean compared to "Ich bin auf Urlaub"? You only give examples of different prepositions used in different contexts. – arne.b Jan 7 '14 at 14:55
Ich würde sagen "Jürgen ist im Urlaub". "Auf" Urlaub klingt für mich falsch. – Robert Jan 7 '14 at 15:51
"Auf Urlaub" is perfectly fine in Austria (Have we mentioned recently that German is a pluricentric language? :-) – Ingmar Jan 7 '14 at 20:59

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