How to understand

In the long months of January and February, when it’s cold and there is anxiety about paying energy bills, people have been struggling. We’ve had a couple of incidents of people coming in very distressed, people who thought they’d never need a food bank. They say: “We thought we could cope”, and they’ve been trying to extend what they’ve got in the cupboard, but actually we are there to help.

from The Guardian?

  1. Does the "extend" mean the people give something to the foodbank or get something from the foodbank?
  2. Is the cupboard the foodbank's or the people's?
  • You have omitted the words They say from the beginning of the sentence. Including them makes the meaning clearer. Mar 10 at 9:09
  • @KateBunting: Adding back the original "They say: " makes it clear that the author does not use standard English punctuation, because we should not use a colon like that!
    – user21820
    Mar 10 at 14:28
  • I agree with @user21820 - this sentence is a mashup of different sentence parts in a way that isn't entirely comprehensible, though I can infer the meaning.
    – Blackhawk
    Mar 10 at 21:35

2 Answers 2


"Extend" here seems to mean that the people are trying to make the thing that they have in their cupboard last longer, by eating less. "Cupboard" is the people's not the foodbank's.


As James points out, "extend" here is being used in the sense of "rationing" to make the food last longer.

The original sentence in its entirety is:

They say: “We thought we could cope”, and they’ve been trying to extend what they’ve got in the cupboard, but actually we are there to help.

While I can infer the meaning, as a native speaker I find it to be written poorly if not outright incorrectly.

There are three separate "ideas" here that would make good candidates for their own sentences, but jumbled together like the quote above are hard to pick apart:

  1. They say: "We thought we could cope."
  2. They've been trying to extend what they've got in the cupboard.
  3. [They thought they were on their own], but actually we are there to help.

For 1, having a colon implies that the first part of the sentence and the last part of the sentence are two independent clauses where the second strongly relates to and addresses the first in some way. For example "She was right: I had forgotten my umbrella." This makes it surprising that the original sentence continues.

For 2, this is a reasonable sentence, but it's not really related to the first part of 1, so it seems like a strange bit to tack on the end in the original sentence.

For 3, the "but actually" implies that this clause is contrasting with something that came before it; however in the original sentence, no previous part of the sentence explicitly does, so it is only implied.

In short, I do not recommend treating this as an example of how to write or understand English.

  • Perfect answer! The easiest way to fix that horrible broken English is to say: They say they thought they could cope, and they have also been trying to stretch what they had, but we are there to help.
    – user21820
    Mar 11 at 10:09

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