English Usage Topics > Meals
The meanings of words referring to meals, and the ways that these words are used, are explained below. Some words for meals are used by different people to refer to different meals.
Breakfast is the first meal of the day. You eat it in the morning, just after you get up.
I always have cereal for breakfast.
'dinner', 'lunch', and 'luncheon'
Dinner, for most people, is the name of the main evening meal. However, in some regions, the word dinner is used for the meal people have in the middle of the day. These people call their evening meal tea or supper, depending on where they come from.
People who call their evening meal dinner usually refer to a meal eaten in the middle of the day as lunch.
We went out for dinner on Tuesday night.
Workers started at 9am and finished at 5pm with an hour for lunch.
'tea' and 'supper'
Tea can be a light meal eaten in the afternoon, usually consisting of sandwiches and cakes, with tea to drink. The expression afternoon tea is often used in hotels and restaurants.
I invited him for tea that afternoon.
Traditional afternoon tea is served.
Tea can also be a main meal that is eaten in the early evening.
Katie had some friends round for tea after school.
'Tea' is not used to talk about meals in American English.
Some people call a large meal they eat in the early part of the evening supper. Other people use supper to refer to a small meal eaten just before going to bed at night.
We had eaten a light supper at six.
I had some toast for supper, then went to bed.
More formal terms
You can refer to a meal that you eat in the middle of the day as a midday meal. Similarly, you can refer to a meal that you eat in the evening as an evening meal. However, these terms are not normally used in conversation to refer to meals eaten at home, only to meals provided for you, for example at school or in a hotel.
'at' and 'over'
You show that someone does something while they are having a meal using the preposition at.
He had told her at lunch that he couldn't take her to the game tomorrow.
Isaac sat next to me at dinner.
However, you usually use over when talking about an event that takes some time, especially when saying that people discuss something while having a meal.
It's often easier to discuss difficult ideas over lunch.
He said he wanted to reread it over lunch.
'for' and 'to'
When you talk about what a meal consists of, you say what you have for breakfast, lunch, and so on.
They had hard-boiled eggs for breakfast.
What's for dinner?
When you invite someone to have a meal with you, for example at your house, you say that you ask them for the meal or to the meal.
Why don't you join me and the girls for lunch, Mr Jordache?
Stanley invited me to lunch on Sunday.
You often use have to say that someone eats a meal. You can say, for example, that someone has breakfast or has their breakfast.
When we've had breakfast, you can phone for a taxi.
That Tuesday, Lo had her dinner in her room.
Don't say that someone 'has a breakfast' or 'has the breakfast'.
When someone prepares a meal, you can say, for example, that they make breakfast, make the breakfast, or make their breakfast.
I'll go and make dinner.
He makes the breakfast every morning.
She had been making her lunch when he arrived.
Don't that someone 'makes a breakfast'.
'a' with meals
Words referring to meals can be used either as uncountable nouns or as countable nouns. However, these words are not generally used with 'a'. For example, don't say 'I had a lunch with Deborah' or 'I had a dinner early'. You say 'I had lunch with Deborah' or 'I had dinner early'. You can, however, use a when you are describing a meal.
They had a quiet dinner together.
He was a big man and needed a big breakfast.
When you want to refer to the period of the day when a particular meal is eaten, you can use a compound noun consisting of a word referring to a meal and the word time. The compound noun can be hyphenated or written as two separate words.
I shall be back by dinner-time.
It was almost lunch time.
The forms dinnertime, lunchtime, suppertime, and teatime are also used, and are preferred in American English. Breakfast time is never written as one word.
He had a great deal to do before lunchtime.
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