Back in June, I wrote a blog post about lay and lie and their correct usage under standard grammar rules. But those aren’t the only set of words that creates headaches for many writers.
Sit and set get mixed up nearly as often. The problem is that in many American spoken dialects, people use set almost exclusively, probably due to accent.
But in written English they are still considered distinct words with distinct usages and meanings.
Sit is an intransitive verb (in other words, there is no direct object receiving the action) meaning be seated or be situated.
I always sit in my favorite chair when we watch movies.
Come on in, sit down, and rest awhile.
My parents’ wedding photo sits in a place of honor above the fireplace mantel.
As a side note, all the past tense forms of sit are sat: sat, have sat, had sat.
When set is used, there is usually an object receiving the action.
It means place, arrange, or fix. A good way to remember the difference between sit and set is that set means to cause something to sit.
Set the book on the table.
Please set the table for dinner.
We need to set the date for the next meeting.
Because nothing in English can be straightforward, there is an exception to the rule about set requiring a direct object.
The sun sets at 9 pm at this time of year.
Fortunately, though, the past tense is really simple: set, have set, had set.
While it may seem like a minor issue to some people, using set in place of sit will irritate some of your readers and give your characters a hint of a regional accent that you may not have intended. And getting it right costs you nothing but a tiny bit of thought and effort.
But if it remains one of those things that just keeps slipping through your fingers, remember to mention it to your editor. Though a good editor knows to look out for those kinds of common errors, it’s good to be warned.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.