In the following sentence, does "the meeting" refer to an event or the people participating in the event?

The meeting broke up at eleven o'clock.

The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has the following definition for "break up":

to go away in different directions


It sounds as if the event we call "the meeting" went away in different directions!

I thought it was the people who had participated in a meeting that went away.

Please note the the thread is NOT about whether the phrasal verb "break up" collocates with "meeting." Rather, it is about whether there is a mismatch between definition and the example sentence.

Somehow many native speakers don't know what is at issue. Although the said dictionary does include the "come to an end" definition, this move hardly justifies the mismatch between the example sentence in question and the "to go away in different directions" definition.

  • 3
    The dictionary is telling you what this means. It is an idiomatic way of saying that something organised has ceased. In British English, we also say that schools 'break up' when they close for a break between terms. I'm not sure this is so much a question as an exclamation that you think it sounds like something else.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 8:11
  • @Astralbee The issue is NOT whether "The meeting broke up" is idiomatic. It is. The issue is whether "the meeting went away in different directions" makes sense.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 8:30
  • 3
    I’m voting to close this question because it seems to be based on a quibble. Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 8:43
  • @MichaelHarvey So you think "the meeting" went away in different directions" makes perfect sense?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 8:48
  • 2
    As I said, Oxford Languages refers to a gathering dispersing, implying that the people who attended 'go away in different directions'. Language doesn't have to be exactly literal if the meaning is clear. Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 9:30

1 Answer 1


Obviously the meeting can't break up. It's the people participating in the meeting! In different contexts things can mean different things, especially this case.


(of a gathering) come to an end and disperse. Lexico

So the people in the meeting dispersed, not the event dispersing.

  • I was shocked to find editors for the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary should be so imprecise in their phrasing.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 9:22
  • There's nothing 'imprecise' about the dictionary's phrasing. Meetings break up. So do schools. Courts rise. Parliaments dissolve. Subtleties of this type are best resolved by finding other, more advanced reference material than a learner's dictionary. Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 9:35
  • @MichaelHarvey I have no problem with "meetings break up." What I find problematic is the Oxford Advanced Learner's definition. That's certainly an instance of imprecise phrasing.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 9:38
  • Meetings certainly break up, but do meetings "go away in different directions"?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 9:39
  • 1
    @Apollyon meetings cannot go away in different directions, people can
    – DialFrost
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 0:30

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