Sunday, January 1, 2012

Let's Talk Grammar: Sit or Set?

Breaking News...
Five-year-old granddaughter, The Princess, reports that she is elephants. This comes as a complete surprise to everyone since no one else in the family has an elephant allergy. We are thankful that she has let us know about this condition so that we can be on guard against future inadvertent elephant exposure.

But that's not what I came here today to talk about. Today I want to talk about correct verb usage, specfically how to use sit and set.

As I'm sure you all remember, our last grammar lesson was about the difference between lie and lay. You may want to go back and review before we move on to sit and set. Go ahead. We'll wait. I'm used to waiting for my students to get caught up.

There now. We're all caught up, so let's continue. First off, let's come out and admit that you know you were taught this in high school. I mean, the teacher presented the information and gave you the homework assignment. Unfortunately, you had just gotten the new Third Eye Blind album and weren't really paying attention to what you were writing. Now you're an adult and it occurs to you that there's probably a difference between sit and set, but you're not sure what it is. No problem. I'm here to help you, and I won't even give you detention for sloppy work. Because I'm cool like that.

As you recall from our lie and lay lesson, lie never needs a direct object, but lay does. This is the same difference between sit and set. Sit does not require a direct object. You don't sit something, you just sit.
  • I like to sit in the recliner after a hard day at the circus teaching junior high.
Sit is an irregular verb, meaning we don't just add -ed to form the past tense. The past tense of each irregular verb is unique to itself, just because whoever invented English was sadistic that way. The past tense of sit is sat.
  • I sat in the recliner staring at the wall for two hours with a half-eaten chocolate bar in my hand.
Set, on the other hand, does require a direct object. You have to set someone or something. You can set your book on the floor. You can set your cup on the table. You can set that chocolate bar over here by me. Thank you.

Set is also an irregular verb with its own unique way of forming the past tense because setted just sounds stupid. The past tense of set is.....ready for it....set. Talk about your lazy past tense formation.

  • I always set my coffee next to my chocolate bar. I set it there yesterday, and I will set it there tomorrow. Well, how else do you think I get through a day of coralling these maniacs nurturing these young minds?

    So please come sit with me awhile. After we have sat long enough, we can quit texting other people, set our cell phones down, and chat over a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar.

    So how clear is that? Do you need more examples or further explanation? Let me know. And where do you think we should go next? I've already had a request for a lesson on apostrophes, so I'm working on that one. Anything else? I'm here to answer any questions so you can set your mind at ease.