Supper vs Dinner: Which One Describes Your Evening Meal the Best?

Do you hear “yanny” or “laurel”? Do you see a white and gold dress or a black and blue one? There are countless internet debates, but there is one age-old debate that trumps them all – DINNER vs SUPPER.

Growing up, when your parents called you to the table for the last meal of the day, did they yell “supper” or “dinner”? In many parts of the United States today, families use the terms supper and dinner interchangeably. But believe it or not, there is a difference! Let’s take a look at the two definitions…

The Real Difference Between Dinner and Supper

Dinner comes from the Vulgar Latin word “disjējūnāre,” which simply means to break one’s fast. We know – it seems to complicate things because, well, isn’t that what breakfast means? I thought we were talking about dinner! [1]

Surprisingly, dinner doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific time of day, but the biggest or main meal of the day which can be eaten midday or in the evening. So far, so confusing… [2]

Then, what does supper really mean?

Whereas dinner came from the Latin language, supper comes from the Old French word “souper.” Translated in English, souper refers to the evening meal. According to Wide Open Eats, rural families in the 1800s would use “dinner” to describe their lunch and “supper” to describe their evening meal. [3]

Since souper, by definition, is an evening meal, it seems that we’ve answered the age-old question… right? Not so fast!

The use of dinner and supper don’t even specifically refer to people from the west coast or east coast, or the Midwest or American South. To determine why your parents and grandparents used supper or dinner, you can ask yourself one question: Was I born into a farming family?

Anyone who grew up in or around agricultural families, it was only natural that dinner was the biggest main meal of the day. This was mainly because farmers needed the sustenance and energy to keep them going during long workdays. As a result, supper became a term that described the later, lighter meal. [3]

But, dinner seems to be the more popular term now…

This is true! As more and more families stopped working on farms and took on more corporate-style desk jobs away from home, dinner (the once-biggest meal of the day) started getting pushed back. Food historian Helen Zoe Veit said, in an interview with NPR: “They couldn’t readily return home to cook and eat in the middle of the day.” [4]

Depending on your age, supper may still be the word of choice to describe evening meals! But if you have noticed that dinner has eclipsed the once-popular term, we hope this little piece of history helped clarify some things for you!

[1] Everything After Z by (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Dinner. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[4] Weeks, L. (2015, September 29). How Many Daily Meals Did We Once Eat? Retrieved from