< Have and Eat
By Alice Bryant
02 April 2021

This week, we answer a question from a reader in China. Jojo writes:


Good day. I would like to know the difference between "have" and "eat" and when to use them. Thanks a lot.

Ask a Teacher: Have and Eat
Ask a Teacher: Have and Eat

-Jojo, China


Hello Jojo!

When talking about a specific meal or food, the verbs "eat" and "have" are often interchangeable. That means either word can be used.

Listen to an example of when to choose either word:

I'm having breakfast right now. I'll see you in a little while.

I'm eating breakfast right now. I'll see you in a little while.

In the example, most Americans would probably use "eat" but "have" would still sound natural. And there is no different in meaning between the two.

Polite requests

But the word "have" is used in polite or kind requests and offers that relate to food and meals. In these cases, often the eating does not take place at home.

Here's an example of a kind offer from a friend:

Want to have dinner at my place? I'm making grilled fish.

We also use "have" when ordering food at a restaurant. It does not matter what kind of restaurant it is. We do not use eat.

Listen to this short restaurant exchange:

Good morning, what will you have?

We will have the oatmeal, thanks.

Transitive, intransitive

Here is something else to consider when choosing one or the other:

The verb "have" is transitive. That means we must always say what we ate or will eat. For instance, in the restaurant exchange, the man said they would have the oatmeal.

"Eat" is intransitive, which means we do not have to say it. So, you can say this:

I'm really hungry. Let's eat!

But you cannot say, "I'm really hungry. Let's have!" You can, however, say:

I'm really hungry. Let's have pasta!

And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

specific - n. relating to a particular person, situation, etc.

polite - adj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people

oatmeal - n. oats that have been ground into flour or flattened into flakes

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