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What is the difference between Abendbrot and Abendessen?

Some ideas appearing on the internet

  • time of the day
  • regional difference
  • simple vs. whole meal

Can you clarify this? For a foreigner this can be very confusing.

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Although the word Abendbrot (literally: "evening bread") is suggesting that actually bread is being eaten, Abendessen and Abendbrot do not differ in what they are referring to, as far as I know - with both notions referring to the meal at the end of the day, "dinner". (Where I come from - Saxony, a region, where Abendbrot is the standard term - Abendbrot would actually also refer to a non-bread-dinner.)

The Atlas zur deutschen Alltagssprache ("Atlas of German Every-day Language") shows a strong regional difference:

Map of the distribution of different German regionalisms referring to "dinner"

This supports the thesis, that the difference is actually a difference of regionalisms, not one of the referred thing itself.

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  • 4
    Beware that while »Abendbrot« and »Abendessen« (and, presumably, other terms like »Nachtmahl«, which I’m not familiar with) mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably, »Vesper« can also mean other meals during the day, e.g. a small snack that you bring to school or work as a second breakfast. Jan 26 at 15:33
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I agree with the other answer that the meaning is the same and that there are regional differences.

I come from Berlin, a region where "Abendbrot" is the preferred term. To me, "Abendessen" sounds more formal or elevated.

There are also differences in possible combinations with a verb:

I would use the combination of "essen" and "Abendbrot" ("Abendbrot essen" = "to have dinner") in a sentence, but with "Abendessen" I would choose a different verb to avoid the duplication of "essen", even with inflected forms of "essen".

All this might be different in other regions.

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  • An explanation for the downvoting would be nice.
    – Bodo
    Jan 26 at 17:21
  • What is your region then?
    – ludgo
    Jan 27 at 15:09
  • 1
    @ludgo Berlin (added to answer)
    – Bodo
    Jan 27 at 16:31

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