In India, a 'dinner' strictly means the meals eaten somewhere between 1900 hr to 2200 hr (depending upon when an officegoer reaches home). I mean the night meal is dinner.

And yes, for those who start thinking on 'when evening begins', it's important to clarify that in this context it does not matter when the sun sets! Dinner is still between the said hours.

Collins confused me further:

dinner: a meal taken in the evening or
a meal taken at midday, esp when it is the main meal of the day; lunch

MW is exactly opposite to what we Indians believe:

dinner: the principal meal of the day ~ "Never," will say most of Indians!

Because I'd invite my girlfriend for a 'candlelit dinner'. When candles are lit; in the dark somewhere around 2000 hr. My friends would beat me up if I invite them for the dinner (full meal, heavy meal) in the afternoon!

In fact, being a healthcare provider, we suggest heavy lunch and light dinner -Source DailyMail.co.uk so that in the night with no physical activities, you'll digest the dinner (which is light) easier. During day, heavy meal (lunch) is okay as you are quite active and will digest it well.

So, the question - If I'm eating my heavy meal say around 1300 hr, may I call it as the dinner? Okay, I'll be eating some light meal in the evening/night (around 2000 hr.) so to clarify that the 1300 hr meal is not the only meal for me for that day.

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    I expect breakfast, lunch and dinner are pretty much consistent in the English speaking world with regional adjustments and changes due to a different way of life over the years. I've always been told in Britain dinner was the main meal of the day, whether taken for lunch for tea or for supper. You don't mention tea (the meal) in your question, I expect, that's something the Brits didn't leave behind in India? About Britain and about the US (downloadable on this page).
    – None
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 9:04
  • When I grew up (in Scotland) we had a thing called 'high tea' which is a light meal at about 1600, between lunch at 1300 and supper at 1900. It was tea, coffee, bread, jam, pastries, that sort of thing. Commented May 31, 2014 at 12:36
  • See also “Lunch” vs. “dinner” vs. “supper” — times and meanings? on EL&U. Commented May 31, 2014 at 21:01
  • Wait, so where you are, you guys believe physical activity aids digestion? I've heard of people here eschewing heavy meals late in the day because (they report) it causes insomnia, but not due to effects on digestion. Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 0:58
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    Belatedly revisiting this; main meal of the day means 'of the 24-hour period', not 'eaten in daylight'. Commented Jun 18, 2022 at 11:44

5 Answers 5


Lunch? Dinner? Supper? It seems to depend on where you live.

Where I grew up, it was breakfast, lunch, and finally dinner. Where my mother grew up, it was little dinner, dinner, and supper, where dinner was the largest meal (she grew up on a farm). When I raised my own family, I used breakfast, lunch, and finally dinner. But since people come from all over the country to where I live, when talking to others, I use supper for the evening meal.


  • a meal taken in the evening
  • a meal taken at midday, esp when it is the main meal of the day; lunch


  • A light evening meal when dinner is taken at midday.
  • A light meal eaten before going to bed.

To make it worse, in Middle English dinner meant "breakfast," as did the Old French word disner, or diner.

It's hard to go wrong with breakfase and lunch. I guess you just need to ask in each country you're in, What is the evening meal called here?

  • Nice answer. +1 especially for the country thing ;)
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 8:58
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    The oxford dictionary gives "main meal of the day" as the meaning, which I guess also explains the national differences and why even people who consider "dinner" to be in the evening probably don't have a big problem with "christmas dinner" at noon. Funnily enough exactly the same "problem" exists with dîner in French - depending on the country the meaning varies.
    – Voo
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:26
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    I don't think that little dinner → dinner → supper is a common bit of dialect. I'm unable to find any corpus examples of little dinner with this meaning. Where is she from, if I may ask?
    – user230
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:53
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    @snailplane Seems very similar to french: Petit dejeuner->dejeuner->dîner in France (well that's what I got told, native speakers correct me). And since dîner refers to lunch in Canada according to my French dictionary and not supper, I'd wager a guess in that direction.
    – Voo
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 15:17
  • @snailplane - as Voo has guessed, she grew up speaking French in Quebec. Commented May 31, 2014 at 15:46

There are two series in common use:

Breakfast - Dinner - Supper


Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner

People who use one series will rarely use the other, kind of like British vs. American spelling. Unfortunately you have no way of knowing which it is until they use either "Supper" or "Lunch". If you are the speaker, just avoid the word "dinner" and the problem largely goes away. Breakfast - Lunch - Supper is not wrong.

In Canada, both series are equally popular. So are international, British and American date formats (Y-m-d, d-m-y, m-d-y) and metric/imperial measure. Yes, it's a constant problem.

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    If you're going to throw supper in as well, then there's more than two series! eg where I live (NW Eng) Supper is taken to mean a light snack before bed; thus Breakfast - Dinner - Tea - Supper and Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner - Supper
    – peterG
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 19:16
  • And don't forget about elevensies. Anyhow, so long as the food is good, I don't see it as a "problem." Call the meal anything you want, just don't call me late for dinner.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 1:34

Sometimes I'll do a mental double-take when someone refers to a midday meal as dinner (I've known a few families who have said that regularly). My mind has always adjusted, though, and I've always accepted that as an acceptable definition of the word (and I was never tempted to "beat anyone up").

Dinner seems to be one of those many English words that have a primary (widely-accepted) use and a secondary (more occasional) use, depending on region and custom.

You might hear many people use dinner to refer to a midday meal around the holidays:

I'm driving out to London to have Christmas dinner with my parents.

Many families use the word dinner when referring to meals served a large holiday gatherings, irrespective of the time of day the meal will begin. I don't believe I've ever heard the term "Thanksgiving lunch," no matter what time of day the traditional turkey was carved.

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    As always, useful J.R. +1 --I din' think of festive season/holiday gathering in this context.
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 9:58
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    A while back I thoroughly confused someone by answering, when they asked 'What do you have for Christmas lunch?', 'Mushrooms on toast'. I think they thought I lived on some sort of weird vegan hippy commune. (We had the turkey for supper, which word we used more or less interchangeably with dinner.) Commented May 31, 2014 at 12:39
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    @MaulikV I recommend avoiding the non-standard eye dialect spelling din'.
    – user230
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:40
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    @snailplane It comes involuntarily. Trust me. I also see that every time you take pain and edit my content. Thanks for that. I'll try to avoid writing it.
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 14:53
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    I agree with the dinner for lunch thing but when I grew up in England we had "dinner ladies" that served school meals ("lunches") at 12:00 - 13:00. Confusing if you think about it too hard. Maybe best not to ;) Commented May 31, 2014 at 15:26

Most of these seem to be missing out tea (the meal).

In my family in the UK (Caucasian. English) we have always used Breakfast, Dinner, Tea, Supper.

Dinner is the main meal of the day eaten around 1pm, Tea is sandwiches and tea (the drink) eaten around 5pm, Supper is an optional light snack eaten around 9pm.

If we are going out in the evening for a meal we will go out to dinner, and have a light snack around 1pm instead.


I'll say this: the most common usage by far is to have lunch indicate the midday meal, and to have both supper and dinner indicate the evening meal, and generally not to use the word "supper." Certain areas use "supper" in a different way, and you'll rarely see people use "dinner" in a different way as well, but for the most part people using these conventions are well aware that they're antiquated and won't be unduly confused by someone using the more accepted convention.

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