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Imagine, it was a holiday for 7 days, so students did not go to school. And now, you see one of them today and ask him (he is a non-native speaker):

- What did you do during all these 7 days?

- I played games, talked to my friends on the computer, and "I ate food."

Actually he said this sentence of "I ate food" after thinking for a while, because he felt he couldn't find activities to list, so he simply wanted to add the regular daily thing of "eating" as an activity.

However, the sentence "I ate food" did not sound right to me. I understand what he meant. He simply meant "He had breakfast, lunch, dinner, which is usual.". So, he probably did not want to list each of the names of the 3 meals and simply said "I ate food."

But, I feel that "I ate food." would not be what a native speaker would say to refer to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I am not quite sure either how to replace the sentence with an idiomatic version. So, instead of saying "I ate food." I thought may be he should have said:

"I ate."

OR

"I had meals."

I can't really know. So, I want to ask, do you think "I ate food" would be idiomatic to simply mean "I had breakfast, lunch, dinner, which is usual."

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    It does sound funny, because we all know that food is what people eat - and you eat whether you are at school or not! A native speaker might say "I ate a lot", or "I had some great meals" to indicate that they especially enjoyed their meals over the holiday. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 9:25
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    People generally know, once they reach a certain age, perhaps, (children can be very literal-minded) that others are not interested in the normal routine things that everybody does - eat, sleep, use the toilet, wash, etc, and that if asked about holiday activities the questioner wants to hear about unusual things that people don't do during the school term. If I answered 'I went to bed, slept, got up, washed, ate food, went to bed again' the other person would conclude that I had had a very dull holiday. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 15:41

2 Answers 2

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I ate food

Without qualifications, this could mean almost anything, from eating only one packet of crisps during the whole seven days, to eating continuously for the whole seven days.

The normal way of stating that you ate the usual meals is to say

I ate three times a day

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  • thanks for the suggestion "I ate three times a day". How about simply saying "I played games, talked on the phone, etc etc and "I ate."? Can the sentence "I did this and that, and I ate." also be the normal way of saying you ate the usual meals.? In other words, does the stence "I ate." imply 3 times already Or do I have to say "....and I ate 3 times a day."?
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:23
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    "I ate" is more idiomatic than "I ate food": I can imagine somebody saying it. It wouldn't imply that you ate the usual meals: conversely, it wouldn't imply that you ate differently.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:25
  • thanks, that was what I was feeling. "I ate" sounds more idiomatic, but I wasn't quite sure whether or not it imply the usual meals, and now I know that it wouldn't. So, the sentence "I ate." sounds to me like you ate because you wanted to satisfy your hunger or you did it as a measure because you thought you might not have a chance to eat on the road.
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:33
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It is what it is. As you say, he only said this because he couldn't think of anything else to say. So it is not a natural expression to form, if you genuinely want to tell someone about your holiday.

That said, it is grammatically correct and perfectly meaningful.

It seems ironic. The person is implying that absolutely nothing of interest or importance happened (or if it did, "I'm not going to tell you about it"). Ironically stating "I ate food" sounds like a teenager trying to get dismiss a question by stating the obvious. It means "Go away, dad, I don't want to talk about it."

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    Perhaps one should be grateful he didn't add 'I used the toilet', 'saw a dog', 'combed my hair several times', etc. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 11:49
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    @James, yes that is probably right. When an uninterested student can't form a sentence in English (because of lack of vocabulary), they simply go for saying basic things like Michael suggested. Ok, that is clear. However, you also say "it is perfectly meaningful." So, do you mean I should accept this "I ate food" sentence as an idiomatic English? I ask this because I doubt this sentence refers to the 3 meals in a day, but rather it sounds like he has not been able to find food for days and and he found some during this 7 days, doesn't it? Do you think so?
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 11:58
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    @James K, in addition to the points him being uninterested, I think he doesn't know how to make the sentence which you suggested "I ate the normal three meals a day. I teach him English, and he apparently thinks his sentence refers to "normal 3 meals a day", whereas it does not. This is what I wanted to say. I will now tell him "I ate the normal 3 meals a day." would be the correct sentence.
    – Yunus
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:20
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    No. You should tell him to find something more interesting to talk about. A better sentence would be "I had this really good lasange on Tuesday." But obviously that doesn't mean the same as "I ate food". The point is to say something interesting, not to say the same boring thing in a different way. I prefer "I ate food" to "I ate three meals a day" since both are just as boring, but at least "I ate food" is shorter.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:22
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    @JamesK - in 1963, I was aged 11 and the original BBC Doctor Who series started in the autumn. It was wildly popular with kids. On a well-known BBC kid's programme, Blue Peter, some 11 year olds were invited along to put questions to the Doctor Who show's producer. A girl asked, 'Why don't the Doctor or his companions ever go to the toilet?'. The producer hesitated and said 'We only have 30 minutes for each episode so we thought the viewers would rather see them doing more interesting things'. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 13:10

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