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In my grammar textbook under the section of time expressions in the Russian language there is a table presented with various types of constructions per case. Under предложный падеж are listed the expressions "за обедом/завтраком/ужином" whilst under творительный падеж are listed the expressions "к обеду/завтраку/ужину".

I wondered what the difference is between these two constructions? As a non-native speaker the meaning seems identical to me. What nuance can be derived between the following sentences for instance?

"приходите к нам за обедом" "приходите к нам к обеду"

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    The case associated to за in your examples is not предложный, but творительный, and the case associated to к is not творительный, but rather дательный.
    – KCd
    Nov 20, 2022 at 13:14

2 Answers 2

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Meanings are different and not even close.

(делать что-либо) за обедом/ужином/завтраком - to do something during that meal (to speak or to watch TV for example).

(сделать что-либо) к обеду/завтраку/ужину - to finish doing something by that time.

Приходите к нам за обедом - come to us to get the dinner (often implied that you will then go away with the food and not stay with us).

Приходите к нам к обеду - come to us to dinner time (just as approximate time, not necessarily to have dinner with us).

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"За обедом" is in instrumental case (творительный падеж), not prepositional (предложный). This phrase is most often used as an adverbial and means "во время обеда, обедая" ("during lucn, whilst having lunch").

  • За завтраком, между блюд ― встают и танцуют, и в пять часов, и за обедом, и так до утра.
  • Он проводил много времени за обедом.

Note that it only applies to the actions of somebody who is actually having a meal. So you can't say for example "За обедом к нам пришли гости". Not in this sense, at least, as this clumsy phrase could be misinterpreted as "guests came to get a lunch from us". To understand why instrumental case is used here, you can think of it this way: somebody did something while he was occupied with lunch, "занят (чем?) обедом". Apart from meals, there are not many activities which can be used in a similar way in a sentence. "За игрой", "за уроком", are a few other examples which come to mind.

Much less frequently, "за обедом" could mean "чтобы получить обед" (in order to get a lunch):

  • Я пришла с судками за обедом.

It could also mean "after lunchtime":

  • Вслед за обедом наступали ранние декабрьские сумерки.

"К обеду" is in dative case (дательный падеж), not instrumental (творительный). This phrase can be used in the following ways:

  • Пригласить к обеду. Invite for dinner.
  • Таня проснулась к обеду. Tanya woke up by lunchtime.
  • Время близится к обеду. Lunchtime is approaching.
  • К обеду была вареная говядина. For lunch, there was boiled beef.

"Приходите к нам за обедом" means "come to us to get your lunch/dinner". "Приходите к нам к обеду" means "come to us by lunch/dinner time". I guess what you are actually thinking of is "приходите к нам на обед", which would be "come to us for dinner".

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