Supper vs. Dinner

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Difference between Supper and Dinner

What's in a word? With regard to the proper usage of "supper" and "dinner", a lot apparently! Many people all over the world hold the meaning of the word in dispute, and the fact that they are both classified as "main meals" in most dictionaries doesn't help make defining them any easier. While both words can be synonymous with each other to some degree, there remain enough regional and cultural variations in practice to ensure that both words get equal usage in everyday conversation. Let's take a look at some of their more significant attributes.


Origin And Distinctions

Traditionally, the British English definition of "dinner" as used by the upper-middle and middle classes was a formal evening meal, which contrasted with the more informal "supper". This meal followed "tea", which was actually a light meal comprised of sandwiches and tea, of course. "Dinner" was traditionally used by the lower and middle classes to refer to the last main meal of the day, which was typically served in the evening. In any case, the class distinctions between the two terms aren't as widely used today, and they are virtually interchangeable among the different classes.

In the United States, "supper" is traditionally used to refer to the last main meal of the day, particularly in the South. Elsewhere in the country, "dinner" is served at midday or soon after, especially during special days. In such cases, there may be a lighter meal served later in the day called "supper".


In many parts of the world, the term "dinner" is used to refer to a banquet or a formal meal that is held during special events or holidays, or to honor a distinguished guest. In less formal settings, a later, lighter meal may be served, which is commonly referred to as "supper". In most cases, "supper" is generally served as a less formal meal, which may or may not follow a larger and more formal "dinner" held earlier in the day.

Time And Makeup

While the two terms are often used interchangeably-and may in fact be virtually the same meal-people from many areas in the United States expect a "dinner" to be larger, more grandiose affair. Even in less formal settings, this "dinner" is expected to be a full meal, whether it is served at midday-in which case there may be a lighter "supper" served later in the evening-or whether it is served in the evening. In any case, "lunch" and "supper" are generally regarded as lighter meals, particularly among families that make a distinction between "dinner" and "supper".



  • May be a more formal affair used to honor a special guest or to commemorate a special occasion
  • Usually denotes a full meal
  • May be served at midday, in which case a lighter "supper" may be served later in the evening.
  • Traditionally used by the lower and middle classes in Britain to refer to the last main meal of the day, which is typically served in the evening


  • Often used to distinguish it from "dinner", which is a heavier meal served at midday
  • Is interchangeable with "dinner" in many cultures
  • Often served as an evening meal, after a heavier dinner was served earlier in the day
Which meal did your parents serve?
  • Supper
  • Dinner

Discuss It: comments 2

Many years ago I grew up on a farm in rural Missouri. Everybody called Dinner Supper. Then as TV became more prevalent people even in our area called Supper Dinner. To me it will always be supper because that was what I grew up with. I did change a little. I use the term 'lunch' for the noon meal.

On a farm back then you had three big meals per day and you worked them off. I was as skinny as a rail.

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  • vinny wrote on June 2011

wasn't there a Last Supper a few thousand years ago? it's dinner in the evening and lunch in the afternoon. just look at a menu....breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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