I had breakfast at 8 a.m.

nike20008

Senior Member
French
I had breakfast at 8.am

Does this sentence mean I started having breakfast at 8.am or that I finished breakfast at 8.am?

*Remember the rule for the simple past?
The past simple tense is used for actions which are completed at a definite point in time in the past.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    There's no definite rule about starting times and stopping times in a comment like this, Nike. I assume that you can say the same thing in French, and the ambiguity in English will be the same as it is in that language. Guided by nothing more than the information in the sentence that troubles you, I'm inclined to believe that you started eating at eight in the morning. If you wanted to tell me that you finished breakfast at eight, then "had" is a poor verb to use.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    It is vague, and of course most of the time it does not matter. However, if it does matter, then it would usually be taken to mean starting to eat breakfast or, if you were in a hotel, going in the dining room at eight.
     

    nike20008

    Senior Member
    French
    This is an example that shows the difference between the past and the past continue and the reason of this post

    Doctors were treating patients in temporary beds and they were trying to do their best in a difficult situation
    (Past continuous: writer chooses to show the events as ongoing at that time in the past)

    Doctors treated patients in temporary beds and they tried to do their best in a difficult situation
    (Past simple: writer chooses to show the events as finished)

    source: Past continuous or past simple? - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary

    I don't understand what the author meant by " finished". Like the doctors finished treating the patients?
     
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    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    All that information would have been helpful in your first post, Nike.;)

    In language about the past, the continuous forms don't tell the reader anything about whether the actions were ever completed. The past simple makes it clear that the actions were finished at some time. If doctors "treated" patients in temporary beds, I assume that they finished whatever they were doing to treat the patients at the time they did this.

    In your original sentence "I had breakfast at 8 a.m.", I assume that you finished the breakfast at some point. If you told me "I was eating breakfast at 8 a.m.", you have only mentioned something that you were doing something --eating breakfast -- at the time. I have no information about whether you actually finished that breakfast. Perhaps you were interrupted at 8:01 a.m. and had to leave your unfinished breakfast on the table as you ran off to deal with some emergency.
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    Re your #5, nike, I'd say it was "during the situation/while the situation lasted". The past tense is used not only for something that happened at a point in time in the past, but also for something that happened during a period of time in the past.
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    [This post has been added to a previous thread in which the same question was asked. Please read down from the top. DonnyB - moderator]
    Hello, guys! Recently I've been confused about the expression "I had breakfast at 8am."

    Is it acceptable and making sense to you guys? If so, what does it exactly mean, "I started having breakfast at 8am." or "I finished having breakfast at 8am."?

    Thanks in advance.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    It means you started eating at 8 am. I don't see any of the ambiguity that others above see.

    "I went to bed at 11" doesn't mean you finished sleeping at 11. It means you started sleeping at 11.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    There's no definite rule about starting times and stopping times in a comment like this,
    This comment on post #2 is spot on.
    If you are at a hotel, it could conceivably mean that you showed up at the dining room at 8 a.m. and were seated a few minutes later.
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    Mightn't we say in that case "I went (down, unless your room is on the same floor as the dining room, and sometimes there's a breakfast area that's seperate from the 'dining room') to breakfast at...")?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Mightn't we say in that case "I went (down, unless your room is on the same floor as the dining room, and sometimes there's a breakfast area that's seperate from the 'dining room') to breakfast at...")?
    Yes you can. It depends what it is you want to say. If it's now twelve o'clock and you have spent the past three hours in a boring meeting and someone asks when you when you want to break for lunch, you might preface your answer by saying when you had breakfast (a long time ago), but it would seem rather odd to say when you left your room.

    Incidentally, it is for this reason that 8 am in the original post is not necessarily the time you started breakfast, because in most situations, this is not important. You need to know the situation in which this is spoken to be able to say anything about what it means in detail. It is entirely possible that, for some reason, the speaker wants to give as late a time as possible while still being truthful (perhaps they don't want the meeting to be interrupted for another hour and a half because there is important business to get through first, and after lunch no one will be able to concentrate properly). They really went down for breakfast at 7 but they were still finishing their last cup of coffee at 8.
     
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    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    It means you started eating at 8 am. I don't see any of the ambiguity that others above see.

    "I went to bed at 11" doesn't mean you finished sleeping at 11. It means you started sleeping at 11.
    I think "I went to bed at 11." is actually quite a different case from "I had breakfast at 8am.", because "go to bed" is a momentary action whose duration can be ignored whereas "have breakfast" is a durative action that would last for some time. Therefore, it's hard to see any ambiguity in the first one.

    My English is not so good. Pardon me if you find any mistakes above.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I went to bed means I went into my bedroom, climbed in my bed and went to sleep. I don't get out of bed for eight more hours.

    I think that's similar to "I had breakfast". I started eating (sleeping), I continued to eat (sleep) and I finished eating (sleeping). The time given for both is the beginning time, not the ending time.
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    The past simple is used to describe something that was completed in the past, right? So, in the case "I had breakfast at 8am." Couldn't I consider the action "had breakfast" was finished and 8am was the exact time point when it was finished?
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    You can't complete something you never started.

    I had chemistry class at 2 pm.

    That's the exact same thing. Do you really think it's possible for that to mean your one hour chemistry class started at 1 pm?
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    I went to bed means I went into my bedroom, climbed in my bed and went to sleep. I don't get out of bed for eight more hours.

    I think that's similar to "I had breakfast". I started eating (sleeping), I continued to eat (sleep) and I finished eating (sleeping). The time given for both is the beginning time, not the ending time.
    I always thought that the whole action "I went to bed." is ended up by my climbing in the bed. Guess I was wrong.
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    You can't complete something you never started.

    I had chemistry class at 2 pm.

    That's the exact same thing. Do you really think it's possible for that to mean your one hour chemistry class started at 1 pm?
    No, I don't. It would be weird thinking like that. I know what "had something at X(time)." means now. I just want some grammatical explanations.

    Being in a non-English-speaking environment, it is kinda difficult to find out how English is actually used. So grammar learning seems to be important.
     
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    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Being in a non-English-speaking environment, it is kinda difficult to find out how English is actually used. So grammar learning seems to be important.
    Indeed, but the problem for learners is that we have no immutable grammar "rules." Idiomatic usage always overrules so-called "rules." Those who deny that truth are doomed to spend their lives in a deep quandary.
    On the bright side, that very situation is what energizes your native-speaking friends here in this forum to help learners of our language.:) :)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    No, I don't. It would be weird thinking like that. I know what "had somthing at X(time)." means now. I just want some grammatical explanations.
    Yes, I understand that. I am mostly puzzled by the English speakers above who said it was ambiguous or vague. Times for actions are given as the beginning times. Always. How could it not be so? :)

    If you want to emphasize the length of something then you have to say that.

    We had breakfast at 8 am.

    The exact moment you ate your first piece of food is not specified but the time you started the process is clear. If you are at home and making toast you could have eaten your first bite at 8 or just a few minutes after. If you were eating at a restaurant maybe you didn't have your first bite for fifteen or twenty more minutes because you had to give your order and wait for it to be brought to you. But we still say we ate breakfast at 8.

    Only if the process was unusually long would we talk about the end time.

    The restaurant was so crowded we had to wait in line for twenty minutes and then the service was very slow. Even though we got to the restaurant at 8 we didn't finish eating until 9:20.
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    Indeed, but the problem for learners is that we have no immutable grammar "rules." Idiomatic usage always overrules so-called "rules." Those who deny that truth are doomed to spend their lives in a deep quandary.
    On the bright side, that very situation is what energizes your native-speaking friends here in this forum to help learners of our language.:) :)
    That's good to know. Thanks a lot for all you native speakers' generous help.
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    Yes, I understand that. I am mostly puzzled by the English speakers above who said it was ambiguous or vague. Times for actions are given as the beginning times. Always. How could it not be so? :)

    If you want to emphasize the length of something then you have to say that.

    We had breakfast at 8 am.

    The exact moment you ate your first piece of food is not specified but the time you started the process is clear. If you are at home and making toast you could have eaten your first bite at 8 or just a few minutes after. If you were eating at a restaurant maybe you didn't have your first bite for fifteen or twenty more minutes because you had to give your order and wait for it to be brought to you. But we still say we ate breakfast at 8.

    Only if the process was unusually long would we talk about the end time.

    The restaurant was so crowded we had to wait in line for twenty minutes and then the service was very slow. Even though we got to the restaurant at 8 we didn't finish eating until 9:20.
    Thanks for your explanations and the context you provided. They are of great help.
     

    ZYFintown

    New Member
    Chinese
    So, these following sentences are all acceptable and the times given are beginning times. Am I right?

    I wrote the letter at 6 pm.
    I watched TV at 7 pm.
    She read the book at 9 pm.
    He repaired the bike at 2 pm.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I think they are not good because they all refer to things that have a duration but no standard understanding of that duration.

    When I say "I had breakfast at 8" people have a general idea of how long breakfast takes. They know I wasn't eating breakfast until 2pm. So in the process of giving the starting time I've also given, roughly, the ending time.

    But "I watched TV at 7pm" doesn't work like that. We know watching TV is not an instantaneous activity - it can't start and stop at 7. It continues but it has no natural duration. We have no idea if you watched for ten minutes or ten hours.

    In those kinds of contexts, with no natural duration, it makes more sense to use a continuous verb.

    I started watching TV at 7.
    I watched TV for a couple of hours, starting around 7.

    She started reading her book at 9.
    She read for a couple of hours, starting around 9.


    Compare:
    I took a shower at 7 pm.

    A shower has a "normal" duration that doesn't need explaining.
     
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    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    If someone asks you "What time did you have breakfast this morning?", "What time do you usually have breakfast?", you'll answer "At (around) 8 o'clock.", not "From (around) 8 o'clock to 8:30."
     
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