Why are forks on the left?

It seems incredible that I don’t know this, but there you go. (The people in my house don’t eat together.)

If nine out of ten people are right-handed, why are forks on the left in a place setting? Does everyone use a fork with their left hand? I do, but I’m left-handed.

Everyone does in the UK - we don’t switch hands. Fork in left, knife in right. Americans eat in a funny way.

Most people, in the US, cut with a fork in their left hand a knife in their right, then set the knife down and move the fork to their right hand. I would assume that’s why you have the place settings with the fork on the left and knife on the right, that’s where you’re going to need them first.

ETA as Bozuit said and my Australian uncle confirmed, in other countries, they just leave the the fork in their left hand and eat that way. Perhaps the fork on the left is a holdover from that.

I’d also guess it stems from the British practice - that’s how I grew up and I still eat UK-style.

Formal table manners dictate that you hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right, using the knife to cut your meat. Since most people are right-handed, they want to use their right hand for this. If you’re American you then put down your knife, transfer the fork to your right hand, and use the fork to take a bite. If you’re European, you just use the fork in your left hand to take a bite, without switching the fork from hand to hand.

In almost 50 years of dining in America I have never seen a single person do this.

So what do you see? People eating the European way, eating from the fork in their left hand after cutting their meat or some other approach?

I’ve always eaten American-style, as do most people I eat with (when there is meat or something else on the plate that needs to be sliced).

I was taught to do it that way, but generally do it European style now with my fork in my left hand. I’m 68 if that matters any.


I wonder if it’s regional or perhaps has to do with background. My grandparents (both sides) were European immigrants so I assume that’s how my parents were taught to eat, and then us kids.

In almost 50 years of dining in America I have seldom seen anyone doing anything other than this. A few people eat European style, but they stand out from the masses.

I’m with SpoilerVirgin. How is it conceivably possible that you don’t see people in America continually move their forks from their left hands to their right after cutting food?

Good thing I’m left-handed then – I usually go for the vegetables first!

Just curious, do you then put the fork in your mouth with the tines pointing down? That’s the typical European style, whereas in American style the tines point up.

This. My parents, for whatever reasons, never taught me any table manners, leaving it for me to figure out all by myself, often under the influence of taunting by other children.

So I just figured out how to handle silverware in whatever way seemed intuitively convenient. Result: The British way! Sort-of.

I hold the fork in the RIGHT hand, knife in left hand. I DON’T juggle the fork from hand to hand. (I am right-handed.)

Because of this, people sometimes ask me if I am left-handed, or if I am English, or if I am left-handed English. :slight_smile:

Steak or something sturdy = times down
Anything with sauce on it or veg like peas = tines up

Tines MUST be down. It’s the only way! Otherwise they behead you.

I’m about the only person I know who eats UK-style; everyone else does the frequent utensil-switching-from-hand-to-hand thing, which I find deeply illogical. Or use the side of the fork to cut up food, which is also weird.

Unlike zoid, here in the Midwest I very rarely see anyone using left-hand fork style eating.

Another American who can’t imagine Americans eating in the British style. Maybe 1 out of 50-100.

I’m sure that if you went back to Britain in the 1600’s, everyone who had a fork and knife used it like they do today–fork in left hand, knife in right. Never transferring the fork to their right hand.

It would be interesting to know when the American style of switching hands occurred(and WHY).

Yes, but when setting a table formally, ALL the silverware goes on the left, including knife. Why should that be?


I use the folk in my left hand to eat, often cutting easy food with my fork. When it comes to cutting meat, I switch; cut with my left hand and eat with the fork in my right.

Not in any formal table setting I’ve ever seen.

To be clear I’ve seen plenty of people eat with the fork in their right hand. It’s the switching hands thing I haven’t seen.