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Language Arts

Set vs Sit

This article helps to distinguish the easily confused words "set" and "sit." It gives examples of when "set" and "sit" are appropriate and clarifies their parts of speech. Keep reading to learn to distinguish "set" and "sit."

It’s okay: you can just sit there while I set the table. The spelling, the conjugation, and the exact meaning of the irregular verbs set and sit can all be confusing. Here is some information to help you keep them straight.


Sit is primarily an  intransitive verb (one that does not require an object), but it can also be used as a transitive verb (one that takes an object) or as a noun. Meanings have to do with resting on a chair or elsewhere, taking care of, and being acceptable,  Here are examples:

     Intransitive Verb:

Please sit down.

The statuettes were sitting in a careful arrangement on the mantelpiece.

Sasha is out sitting for the Marshalls’ children

Pedro is sitting for his portrait.

The thought of higher gas prices doesn’t sit well with me.

     Transitive Verb:

Please sit the guests on the patio for appetizers.

The dinner table sits sixteen comfortably.

The cabin sits in a glade, near a small waterfall.


If the facing is not properly anchored, it may adversely affect the sit of the fabric.

The sitting lasted 4 hours.

Sit came into English from the Old English word sittan, meaning “to sit.” It is pronounced /SIHT/.


Set is primarily a transitive verb (one that requires an object), but it can also be used as an intransitive verb (one that does not need an object) or as an adjective or noun. The adjective and noun meanings are not the ones that are generally confusing, so let’s cover those first.


Set as an adjective refers to the quality of being established or fixed or the arrangement of something. Examples are:

The stove is off, the timer for the lights is set: it’s time to leave for our vacation.

After the fiasco last week, we need to review the set guidelines for taking the system offline for maintenance.


Set as a noun refers to a group of items that belong together, a division of a tennis match, a literal or figurative solidification into a hardened or finalized form, or a mental state.

I have a lawn tennis set, if you’d like to play?

This is an exciting Wimbledon finals match. Do you think Nadal or Federer will win this set?

The gelatin dessert is set and ready to serve.

How is Jimmy’s mind set these days?

     Transitive Verb:

The actions of set are primarily about an object being acted upon by the subject of the sentence. The results involve situating something in a particular place, adjusting or fixing it, or arranging it in some way. Here are examples:

Just set the keys on the hall table, if you would be so kind.

I’m sorry, but I can’t talk now: I’m setting my hair for the party.

The orthopedic surgeon set the broken wrist.

How about if you set the type, and I’ll check it?

I have set several psalms to for harp and choir.      

     Intransitive Verb:

There are a couple of occasions when set is used reflexively.

The sun set amid a fabulous magenta and golden sky.

The runners got set in the starting blocks.

Forms of Sit and Set

Not being sure of the different forms of the verbs sit and set is one element that can lead to confusion, so let’s clarify that area. There are regular verbs in English that take an ��"ed ending for both the past form and the participle form. Take seat for example:

Present form: seat - I seat people at the bar when there are no tables available.

Past tense form: seated  - The waiter seated the party of seven upstairs.

Past participle: seated - Now that all of our passengers have been seated and the overhead compartments are closed, we will prepare for takeoff.

By contrast, sit conjugates irregularly, like this:

Present form: sit - I sit in the bar when no table was available.

Past tense form: sat - When a table became available, I moved and sat there.

Past participle: sat - Monty has sat at the table by the fountain at lunch for as long as I can remember.

Notice that like seat, the past tense form and past participle form are the same. Also notice that they are not formed by the addition of ��"ed, but by an internal vowel change.

Set is different still. It also conjugates irregularly, but in a different way:

Present form: set - Joan and Eileen set the wine glasses on the buffet, while Morris covers the table with a linen cloth.

Past tense form: set - Yesterday I set the table; now it’s your turn.

Past participle: set  - The waiter had set the hot sauce on the table prior to serving the meal.

Notice that all the forms of set are identical.

Distinguishing Sit and Set

It is primarily the verbs sit and set that people confuse, so let’s focus our attentions there. Recall that we’ve shown that they do not have any forms in common. The principle parts of Sit are sit, sat, sat, while set is set, set, set.

Beyond this, one absolutely key point is that when meanings are similar, set is primarily a transitive verb, having originally meant “ to make (something) sit.” Sit, on the other hand is primarily an intransitive verb involving cases in which a person (or animal) acts upon him-, her-, or itself. If one person assists another to sit, then the proper verb is considered to be seat, not set.

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