My mother has decided to make a cake today since my aunt is coming to tea tomorrow.

Source: my English grammar book.

Google gives little results involving the given expression "to come to tea".

Is it some kind of an idiom (I understand the meaning, so don't explain it)?

Or is it just something that follows a particular grammar rule?

It really does look unusual when it is looked at from the grammar point of view (no one just "goes directly to tea"; they "go somewhere for tea" instead, i.e. they "go somewhere to get some tea").

So how could you explain the grammar of this? As I said in my last paragraph, the grammar looks unusual, and I want to understand the grammar aspects of this.

I've posted the question “My aunt is coming to dinner tomorrow” (grammar of 'to dinner') on EL&U because I would like to have an answer that show some sources that explain the grammar of this sort of phrase.


4 Answers 4


As used in your example, tea is like a meal (such as lunch or dinner) where you only have tea and whatever goes with it.
So the form is the same as lunch. You would not say the lunch, if used in place of tea, in your example.
I don't believe it is an idiom.

It's no different than saying:

My aunt is coming to dinner tomorrow.

  • +1 Just to be perfectly explicit I would add: "It's no different than saying, 'My aunt is coming to dinner tomorrow.'"
    – Jim
    Sep 5, 2014 at 1:12
  • 2
    Just to point out that "tea" is not a meal where you "only have tea and whatever goes with it", we can drink tea for tea but not necessarily, tea is just the name of a meal British people have around 6 o'clock. Modern life (evolving working conditions, merging of some social differences etc.) make that "tea" is more and more replaced by "dinner" (content the same though, just a time and vocabulary difference). The use of the word tea in the book denotes a British author. If just drinking tea is meant we'd rather say "afternoon tea", which implies tea and cakes, it's more a "ladies" ' thing.
    – None
    Sep 5, 2014 at 7:19
  • @None "The use of the word tea in the book denotes a British author." Not necessarily. “If you're not coming to tea, it would just excite you for nothing.” from American novelist William Dean Howells. Also I have seen "gone to tea" used by a number of American writers.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 1, 2020 at 22:53
  • @None Also I am not able to parse this line of yours (parenthetical remarks omitted): "Modern life make that "tea" is more and more replaced by "dinner"." You meant: "Modern life makes that "tea" is more and more replaced by "dinner""? Still I find the use of "make" peculiar. I wonder if what you wanted to say was "Modern life makes it so that "tea" is more and more replaced by "dinner""
    – Eddie Kal
    May 1, 2020 at 23:03

To in the sentence:

my aunt is coming to tea tomorrow.

expresses purpose, it serves to introduce the reason for the action. We must view it as an elliptical sentence where the verb expressing the action is not expressed but implied and it could be expanded in the following ways:

my aunt is coming to have tea (with us) tomorrow.

my aunt is coming in order to have tea (with us) tomorrow.

Another example:

We're going to a movie tonight.

means we're going to see a movie.

Consider the sentence:

We're going to1 the cinema to2 see a movie tonight.

to1 is a preposition and introduces the place, to2 is a conjunction that introduces the purpose of the trip.

The sentence you propose:

My aunt is coming for tea tomorrow

is perfectly correct as well. In this case "tea" is a single noun unit.

  • If you are correct that some other words are omitted but implied, then everything's clear. I wonder if anyone else could back this up so that I can be sure this is true. Unless you have some great source that could prove it.
    – user26486
    Sep 5, 2014 at 13:21
  • @mathh What do you want being proved? That "to" is used to express purpose? That will be done easily. The explanation is mine though, to try and explain why we could have a noun after this "to". But maybe someone can explain it better.
    – None
    Sep 5, 2014 at 13:38
  • "Come to tea" is not an idiom.

Here 'tea' is a noun which means 'an early evening light meal' in which tea and snacks are usually served.

In that sense, your sentence 'My aunt is coming to tea tomorrow' is fine (similar to the sentence, "She is coming to dinner tomorrow"). It means : My aunt is coming to take part in the early evening meal.

Similarly, 'I took her to tea" is also ok.


Tea is a social event that takes place between three and five o'clock in the afternoon.

It is not exactly a meal, but more like a "snack" for getting together. At such events, yes, tea is served. So are cakes. Maybe small sandwiches. But not "meat and potatoes."

"Let's get together for tea" is a bit like "let's get together for coffee," except that "tea" is more formal and circumscribed than "coffee."

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