Know your words

Set / Sat

Know Your Words

Certain sets of words in the English language tend to confuse writers. I have found the following to be among them:


Despite the best efforts of our elementary school teachers, we writers (and others) still get these two words confused. The big difference here is that set (present, past, and past participle form of the verb to set: set, set, set) takes an object while sat (past and past participle form of the verb to sit: sit, sat, sat) does not. In other words, it is proper to say that you set something down but it is not proper to say that you sat it down.

The big confusion here seems to come when a person is the object, but in grammar even a non-object can be the object of a verb (or preposition). Meanwhile, the opposite is true for set. This verb must have an object and therefore cannot sit alone.

INCORRECT: The bucket set out in the rain all night.

CORRECT: The bucket sat out in the rain all night.

INCORRECT: She sat the kettle on the stove.

CORRECT: She set the kettle on the stove.

INCORRECT: He gently sat the baby in her highchair.

CORRECT: He gently set the baby in her highchair.

© 2017 Ann Henry, all rights reserved.

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