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Today someone wrote to me the following:

"Da meine Bruder in Osterreich heiratet, habe ich am 16. August frei bekommen."

and the context clearly indicates that the writer will not be working on this day.

I can't quite parse the statement: does "frei bekommen" have a special meaning such as "to take the day off"? Probably yes, since to "receive the day free" does make sense but I've never seen/been taught this use and was curious if this is a common construct used in modern German?

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This use is quite common:

"Kann ich morgen frei bekommen?" -"Can i take a day off tomorrow?"

and if you succeeded in getting the day off:

"Ich habe morgen frei." - "I do not work tomorrow."

As 'Ich habe/bekomme -adjective- ' is not really a grammatical way to use these verbs, i'd say this is idiomatic use.

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Taking a day off from work can be expressed in two ways in German:

  • "frei nehmen" is like the English expression; it means you are reasonably certain you do not have to work on the respective day and/or have done everything required to ensure that outcome.

  • "frei bekommen" expresses the same fact, but puts the employer in the active role; it expresses the request to take the day off was granted.

The two expressions are essentially the same; the latter may slightly imply that being allowed to be absent from work on that day was not absolutely bound to happen, or that it took at least a little bit of effort on the speaker's side (convincing, finding a substitute, shifting appointments, ...) to be allowed to be absent. (But then, the same would be implied by "Ich konnte den Tag freinehmen.")

  • With regard to the last paragraph I have a different association. If you work for a public employer (Öffentlicher Dienst) you will often - after request - be granted a free day for some special occasions like the marriage (or birth, funeral...) of a close relative that does not count towards your normal holidays. That is the - as stated in the answer - implied meaning that I connect this phrase to. – Volker Landgraf May 31 '19 at 8:41
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literally translated

to get a day off

usually from work or school.

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