Supper vs. Dinner: Main Differences Made Easy

Are you wondering about the difference between supper vs. dinner? Dinner was originally used to indicate the main meal of the day while supper referred to a lighter meal eaten later. Now, supper is generally commonly used only in a few parts of the world, while elsewhere dinner refers to the evening meal (regardless of size). When choosing between supper or dinner, it's important to consider where you are located because of the colloquial nature of how this word is used.

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Supper vs. Dinner: Historical Context

The word dinner has long been used in the English language to refer to the main meal of the day. In modern times, the evening meal is usually the largest meal, but that has not always been the case. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the main meal of the day was usually served mid-day, around noon-time. As a result, the noonday meal was commonly referred to as dinner.

Supper Origin Story

People who ate a large dinner in the middle of the day would typically eat a much smaller and lighter meal during the evening. The term supper was used for this meal. It evolved from the French term souper, which means an evening meal. Dining habits changed during the 20th century, largely due to the shift away from an agrarian economy brought on by the Industrial Revolution.

The Shift to Dinner

With more and more people working factory jobs outside of the home, the practice of eating the main meal during the daytime became less and less common. Instead, people started to shift their main meals to the evening during the 20th century. Because of this, it became very common to use the word dinner to describe the evening meal. The word lunch became the preferred word for a noontime meal.

A Synonym Story: Two Words, One Meal

The term supper became much less common as the Industrial Revolution wore on, but the word did not become obsolete. In most parts of the U.S. and Canada, for example, the words dinner and supper are considered synonyms for one another. In some places, the term supper is still the preferred term for the evening meal, even if it is consumed as the main meal of the day.

Main Meal Terminology: Generational Differences

While people often tend to relate the term supper with certain regions, this terminology is really more based on generation than region. There are a few places where the word supper remains common now, but prior to the Industrial Revolution, it was common throughout the English-speaking world.

Those who were raised in families where their parents or grandparent's picked up lasting speech patterns from their family's elders, then passed on those patterns to the younger generations are more likely to have been exposed to the word supper than others.


Modern Meal Terminology by Region

In the modern world, region impacts whether people tend to prefer the word supper or dinner to describe the evening meal. Even in places where one word is preferred over the other, it's common for people who live there to use the words interchangeably.

Some places where supper remains in common use were among the last to see a significant impact from the Industrial Revolution, so it took longer for dining habits to change. They are also areas where there is a strong history of colloquial terminology being passed forward over multiple generations. Consider where you are when deciding which term is likely to be most appropriate.

Supper vs. Dinner in the South

The term supper is often associated with the Deep South region of the United States. The term supper remained in common use throughout the South long after the evening meal became the main meal of the day. Over time, habits changed and the term dinner also became common. In the 21st century, the word supper has been largely replaced by dinner, but some southerners do still regularly use the word in this way. The word supper is sometimes used as southern slang.

Supper vs. Dinner in Canada

In most parts of Canada, the word supper refers to the evening meal. The word dinner is commonly used for the evening meal in British Columbia and the southern part of Ontario. Everywhere in Canada, the preferred terminology seems to be supper. In Canada's prairie region, the word dinner is used to refer to the midday meal. Elsewhere in Canada, the midday meal is called lunch, regardless of what term is used for the evening meal.


Supper vs. Dinner in England

In England, around half of people seem to use the word tea to describe the evening meal. The second most popular term is dinner, though the word dinner is most commonly used by people from posh echelons of society or for very formal meals. The word supper is sometimes used for the evening meal, but not nearly as often as tea or dinner.

The most common usage of the word supper in England is to refer to a light evening snack seated after tea or dinner has already been consumed. For example, a small meal just before bedtime might be called supper.

Food Terminology

Now that you're familiar with the difference between supper and dinner, consider learning more about some of the interesting language related to food. Start by exploring some examples of food idioms. Then, if you're ready to laugh, check out a collection of food puns. You're sure to be entertained!