At seven o'clock...they had/ were having / consumed dinner.

wolfbm1

Senior Member
Polish
Hello.

At seven o'clock yesterday evening they had dinner. (My sentence.)

I don't think one can say the sentence above because at that moment in the past they were in the middle of having dinner.
So it should be:
At seven o'clock yesterday evening they were having dinner. (Jenny Dooley. Grammarway 4.)
Am I right?
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    So the question "Did they have dinner at seven o'clock" means "Did they start dinner at seven o'clock?"
    Consuming dinner takes a finite amount of time, so specifying a single point in time for "having dinner" must mean the beginning, middle or end of the meal. Conventionally it refers to the start time :)
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    The picture in the book shows two couples sitting at a table in a restaurant. They are talking and having dinner. The time is seven o'clock yesterday evening. The caption next to the picture says: "At seven o'clock yesterday evening they were having dinner."

    How would you answer the question: "Did they have dinner at seven o'clock?"
    "Yes" or "No."

    I think I could say "Yes" because it could be the beginning, middle or end of the meal.
     

    Szkot

    Senior Member
    UK English
    If the picture shows them in the middle of their meal at 7pm, they did not 'have dinner' at seven, they 'were having' dinner at seven; when they started is unknown. Your original proposition is correct.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thank you, Szkot. So, "Did they have (consume) dinner at seven o'clock?" - "~No, they didn't. They were having (consuming) dinner at that time."
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    < Newer question added to existing thread. Cagey, moderator >

    Hello.

    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they had dinner.
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they ate dinner.
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they consumed dinner.

    I think those sentences mean that they started eating at seven.
    Could the sentences mean that the people finished eating at seven?

    Thank you.


     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    No. Assuming they can't wolf dinner down in one minute, they all mean they started eating about then. Starting at 6.40 and finishing at 7.00 would require 'finished' or 'had eaten' or something like that.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    My first comment is that you should not use the verb "consume" in such a sentence: it really is not idiomatic. To consume (transitive) = to use so that the amount available lessens. To consume is also usually used with an adverb or adverbial phrase to indicate how the "consuming" differs from normal use.

    It is a difficult verb to use correctly for non-native speakers. It is relatively formal and
    the nearest verb is probably "to use" as in "The car uses/consumes a lot of petrol." I advise waiting until you have read and heard many examples before using "consume."

    As etb points out, the process of eating a dinner takes time and thus cannot occur at a given moment.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I am aware that the verb "consume" has a special meaning, but I chose it on purpose. I hoped that it carries a more accomplished or perfective meaning.
    But probably even the verb "wolf" does not do the trick.
    Yes. It is hard to understand. I really do not know how to put that in my mother tongue without using the counterpart of the word start.
    What does the question "Did they have dinner at seven o'clock?" mean?

    Is it "Did they start having dinner at seven o'clock?"
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I am aware that the verb "consume" has a special meaning, but I chose it on purpose.
    That's a pity. It is often a mistake to choose a rarer, more nuanced verb in examples. If you do, it would be advisable to warn the reader of what you are doing. :)
    What does the question "Did they have dinner at seven o'clock?" mean?
    I don't see any semantic difference between that and At seven o'clock yesterday evening they had dinner. / At seven o'clock yesterday evening they ate dinner. so etb's explanation still holds.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they sat at the table.
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they had a conversation at the table.


    Do those sentences mean that they started doing something?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they sat at the table.
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they had a conversation at the table.


    Do those sentences mean that they started doing something?
    From post#4 of the now combined thread
    Consuming dinner Having a conversation takes a finite amount of time, so specifying a single point in time for "having dinner" must mean the beginning, middle or end of the meal. Conventionally it refers to the start time :)
    Sitting down can be regarded as pretty instantaneous, so there is no real "beginning".
    At seven o'clock yesterday evening they sat down at the table.

    If they were sitting at the table before 7 and after 7 we would say
    "At seven o'clock yesterday evening they were sitting at the table."
     
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