Sunday, November 4, 2007

28. The SIT - SET Snafu

Hey, Y'all! I hope you've been doing well and working hard on using your best grammar around your friends, family, and acquaintances. What a great way to make a good impression and to pass on to others the correct way of speaking and writing!

Today's lesson is another one suggested by a friend and former student, and is one that we hear folks struggle with many times. Have you ever been confused about using SIT or SET? These two verbs plague many folks but there are actually some very simple things to know about them that should solve the problem. You will probably notice that the rules for this verb are very similar to the rules for LIE and LAY, so let's take a look at them and see if we can get that rubber-nosed woodpecker in the Petrified Forest look off your face... for now and evermore.

First, let's look at what each word means and then each word's principal parts.

SIT means "to occupy a seat" and it usually does NOT take a direct object. (We've already discussed direct objects several times, but I'll briefly remind you that direct objects answer "What?" or "Whom?" to the subject and verb.)

The principal parts of SIT are

Present - sit

Present Participle - sitting

Past - sat

Past Participle - (have,has, had) sat

Remember that when verbs are conjugated they change into these forms.

Now, here are a couple of examples of the correct use of SIT:

1. Some airline passengers refuse to SIT (not SET) in row 13.

Notice that this sentence means the passengers are refusing to "occupy a seat," and if you tried the direct object test to be sure SIT is correct, you would read the subject and verb to yourself, saying, "...passengers SIT... What? or Whom?" There is, of course, no answer--this makes no sense, so SIT is correct.

2. Queen Elizabeth II SAT (not SET) on the Stone of Scone at her coronation.

In this example, SAT, the past tense of SIT, is correct. Again, the sentence is speaking of the Queen "occupying a seat." In addition, when you try the direct object test and ask "What?" or "Whom?" after the subject and verb ("Queen Elizabeth II SAT"...What? or Whom?"), you can certainly see that there is no answer to the question. Once more, this make no sense, so SAT is correct.

Okay. Now that we've reviewed SIT, we need to mention a little exception before going on to SET. As I've said many times before, exceptions to the general rule do occasionally present themselves, so here we go with one using the verb SIT.

SIT can sometimes, but not often, have a direct object. Here's an example.

SIT the patient carefully in that chair.

The meaning--"occupying a seat"--still is correct, but when you try the direct object question... ah ha! There's an answer! "(You) SIT What? or Whom? "...patient..." answers the question Whom? As a result, SIT, here, is correct.

Yes, yes, I know. It's maddening to have these exceptions, but there it is and we just have to accept another example of our very diverse and complicated language.

So...let's move right along with the verb SET.

SET simply means "to place" and DOES have a direct object most of the time.

The principal parts of SET are

Present - set

Present Participle - setting

Past - set

Past Participle - (have, has, had) set

Notice the following examples of the correct use of SET:

1. The Archbishop of Canterbury SET (not SAT) the royal crown on the new queen's head.

In this sentence, SET is used to mean "place". Now, try the direct object test. "The Archbishop of Canterbury SET..." What? or Whom? Yes, now, we have an answer: "" answers What was being "placed", so SET is correct.

2. Many sci-fi writers have SET (not SAT) the action of their stories on distant planets.

Here, again, SET is used to mean "place." Once more, try the direct object test. "...writers have SET...What? "...action..." is the answer, so SET is the correct answer.

I hope you're doing well and following these explanations. They're really very simple if you'll just practice them a little.

Now I have to tell you about another exception to a rule involving SET and all of its principal parts.

In this exception to the general SET rules, notice that this rule involves only the direct object part of the rule, much like the SIT rule above.

In certain situations, SET and all of its parts will NOT have a direct object. Here are a couple of examples:

1. The sun SETS early in the winter. (The sun SETS... What?...Whom? There's no answer, but SETS is still correct. Just stretch your thoughts and think of the sun being "placed".)

2. Some types of cement SET faster than other types. (The sun SETS...What?...Whom? Again, there's no answer, but SET is still correct. Think of the cement being "placed.")

Okay...Now it's your turn. Try the following sentences to see if you can make a grade of 100.

1. In the early days of photography, people (set, sat) motionlessly in front of a camera for long periods.

2. The police officer (set, sat) the explosive device carefully into a box lined with lead.

3. There is only one remaining bowling alley in town where Bobby (sets, sits) up the pins by hand.

4. From where we were (setting, sitting), it looked like a home run.

5. Martin had (set, sat) out his corn long before the first peep of day.

So...How was it? I hope nice and easy! Here are the correct answers and why:

1. SAT...past tense of SIT, means "occupying a seat," and there's no direct object.

2. SET...past tense of SET, means "places", and there is a direct object--device.

3. SETS...present tense of SET, means "places,"and there is a direct object--pins.

4. SITTING...present participle of SIT, means "occupying a seat," and there's no direct object.

5. SET...past participle of SET, means "placed", and there's a direct object--corn.

All right! I hope this is a Whoo Hooo moment for you! If not, just read back over the rules again and see if you can discover something you missed before. I'm also available to answer any questions anytime, so let me hear from you if there's something you're not quite sure about. I love hearing from you.

Well...since it's about dinner-gettin' time, I'm signing off. Have the best week ever and enjoy those you love the most. Peace and happiness, GG



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