It’s evening and you are ready for your last meal of the day. Will that meal be your dinner or your supper? Is there a difference?
In most parts of the English-speaking world, there are three or four words for the main meals of the day. While most are interchangeable, dinner and supper tend to cause the most confusion.
Though you can use supper or dinner synonymously for your evening meal, the terms hold distinct meanings.
Dinner typically holds a more serious connotation and refers to a heavy, full meal, while supper is often used more informally and refers to a lighter meal eaten at home.
Let’s dive deeper.
What’s the Difference Between Supper and Dinner?
Dinner is a heavy, full meal that can be eaten either at home or out in a restaurant.
Supper is a lighter, more informal meal eaten at home. It usually complements a large meal consumed earlier in the day.
When compared to supper, dinner carries a bit more weight, both in the amount of food consumed and the social significance of the meal.
These sentences help show the differences in the meanings of dinner and supper. Let’s start with dinner.
- She’s giving a speech at the annual company dinner this year.
- We’ll eat dinner together as a family at 6.30pm.
- Would you like to meet me for dinner at 8pm?
- We’re going to grandma’s at 2pm for family dinner!
The next set of sentences shows how supper has a more casual connotation, both in terms of the food served and the social vibe.
- Let’s keep it casual. Come over for a light supper.
- After that massive meal in town, we decided just to have a supper of soup and crackers before getting ready for bed.
- He only ate cheese and biscuits for supper.
- I ate so much for lunch. I’ll just have a small salad for supper.
What Time Is Dinner?
You probably noticed the varied dinner times included in the dinner sentences. While dinner most often refers to an evening meal, there are exceptions.
Sometimes, a heavy afternoon meal is called dinner because it will be a major food event with plenty of food and social significance!
If you met a friend for an early or mid-afternoon meal, you’d probably say you had a “big lunch.”
But you wouldn’t say you had a big lunch if you’d eaten at an afternoon wedding or at grandma’s Sunday pasta extravaganza for the whole family.
Those meaningful, full-of-food events get the more formal dinner designation.
What Time Is Supper?
Supper is always an evening meal. The specific hour of the evening depends on when you’re feeling hungry and how late you stay up! You could have an early supper at 5pm or a late supper at 10pm.
Who Says Supper Instead of Dinner?
There are regional variations in English speakers’ use of dinner and supper in North America an Europe.
The United States
Across the US, many people use dinner and supper interchangeably to describe the evening meal. There are a few remaining places, mostly in the Midwest and South, where supper is still the favoured term.
For example, in Texas you’ll find about half the population using lunch and dinner interchangeably and the other half using supper and dinner interchangeably.
In Ohio, many people call their midday meal lunch and then say supper to reference an evening meal, saving dinner for more formal or larger meals.
Some observe that people in urban settings tend to use dinner, while those in agricultural settings lean toward supper.
In many areas of Canada, the evening meal is supper as often as dinner.
Only in British Columbia and Ontario is dinner the preferred term. In Saskatchewan and other areas of Atlantic Canada, you can expect dinner at noon and supper as the main evening meal!
England adds a third term to the dinner vs. supper battle: tea.
This “tea” is not the kind served in a cup, but describes an evening meal. In England, you will hear tea almost as much as dinner, and hear supper far less often.
In 2018, YouGov actually surveyed 42,000 people across England to find out what they called their evening meal: 57% called it dinner, 38% called it tea, and only 5% called it supper.
Supper was only used in a few isolated areas, and mostly by those in higher income brackets.
Top Tip: If writing for an American audience from the UK (or vice versa), you can set ProWritingAid to recognize American spelling and also use ProWritingAid’s consistency check to ensure you catch any mistakes.
A Final Word on Supper vs. Dinner
Though there are some exceptions, in most areas the accepted resolution to the supper or dinner battle follows these parameters:
- Dinner is a main meal, while supper is always more of a soup or snack-style meal
- Dinner is heavy, while supper is light
- Dinner is usually more formal (though it doesn’t have to be); supper is informal
- In the few areas where you’ll find dinner served at lunchtime, supper will be in the evening (but this is happening less and less frequently)
I’ll excuse myself now. I’m hungry and am off to meet friends for a hearty dinner!