set 1 (sĕt)
v. set, set·ting, sets
1. To put in a specified position or arrangement; place: set a book on a table; set the photo next to the flowers.
a. To put into a specified state: set the prisoner at liberty; set the house ablaze; set the machine in motion.
b. To cause to begin an action: The noise set the dog to barking.
c. To cause or assign (someone) to undertake an action or perform a service: The sergeant set the recruit to sweeping the barracks.
d. To incite to hostile feeling or action: a dispute that set the neighbors against each other.
3. To position (oneself) so as to be ready to do something, such as start running a race.
4. To put into a stable or fixed position, as:
a. To position or secure so as to be fixed or immobile: set the fence post in cement.
b. To put in a mounting; mount: set an emerald in a pendant.
c. To apply jewels to; stud: The tiara was set with diamonds.
d. To cause (a hook) to become fixed in a fish's mouth.
5. To cause to be in proper, useful, or working condition, as:
a. To arrange for the consumption of a meal: set the table; set a place at table.
b. To adjust (an instrument or device) to a specific point or calibration: set the alarm for 7:00.
c. To prepare (a trap) for catching prey.
d. To adjust (a saw) by deflecting the teeth.
e. Nautical To spread open to the wind: set the sails.
f. To arrange scenery on (a theater stage).
g. To restore to a proper and normal state when dislocated or broken: set a broken arm.
h. To apply equipment, such as curlers and clips, to (hair) in order to style.
a. To concentrate or direct (one's mind or attention, for example) on a purpose or goal.
b. To direct or focus (one's desires or hopes, for example) on a certain thing.
7. Sports To pass (a volleyball), usually with the fingertips, in an arc close to the net so that a teammate can drive it over the net.
a. To arrange (type) into words and sentences preparatory to printing; compose.
b. To transpose (text, for example) into type.
a. To compose (music) to fit a given text.
b. To write (words) to fit a given melodic line.
10. To appoint, establish, or determine, as:
a. To declare or demonstrate (a precedent or standard, for instance).
b. To provide or establish as a model: A parent must set a good example for the children.
c. To establish as the highest level of performance: set a swimming record.
d. To arrange or establish (a computer password, for example) to allow future action.
e. To prescribe as a time for: set the meeting for Friday afternoon.
f. To prescribe the unfolding of (a drama or narrative, for instance) in a specific place: a play that is set in Venice.
a. To value or regard something at the rate of: She sets a great deal by good nutrition.
b. To fix at a given amount: The judge set bail for the defendant at $50,000.
c. To make as an estimate of worth: We set a high value on human life.
a. To cause to sit: Set yourself over by the fire.
b. To put (a hen) on eggs for the purpose of hatching them.
13. To point to the location of (game) by holding a fixed body position. Used of a hunting dog.
14. Botany To produce, as after pollination: set seed.
1. To disappear below the horizon: The sun set at seven that evening.
2. To diminish or decline; wane: when the glory of the empire set.
3. To sit on eggs. Used of fowl.
a. To become fixed; harden: allowed the aspic to set.
b. To become permanent. Used of dye.
5. To become whole; knit. Used of a broken bone.
6. To point to the location of game by holding a fixed body position. Used of a hunting dog.
7. Botany To mature or develop, as after pollination.
8. Nonstandard To sit: "If Emmett drives, I could set up front" (Bobbie Ann Mason).
9. To position oneself preparatory to an action, such as running a race.
1. Fixed or established by agreement: a set time for the launching.
2. Established by convention: followed set procedures for filing a grievance.
3. Established deliberately; intentional: Our set purpose is to win the conflict.
4. Fixed and rigid: "His bearded face already has a set, hollow look" (Conor Cruise O'Brien).
5. Unwilling or very reluctant to change: He is set in his ways.
a. Intent and determined: "He is dead set against rushing abroad to build a plant" (Fortune).
b. Ready; prepared: We are set to leave early tomorrow morning.
a. The act or process of setting.
b. The condition resulting from setting.
2. The manner in which something is positioned: the set of her cap.
3. A permanent firming or hardening of a substance, as by cooling.
4. The deflection of the teeth of a saw.
a. The carriage or bearing of a part of the body.
b. A particular psychological state, usually that of anticipation or preparedness: "The mental set of an audience is crucial to his performance" (Psychology Today).
6. A descent below the horizon.
7. The direction or course of wind or water.
8. A seedling, slip, or cutting that is ready for planting.
9. The act of arranging hair by waving and curling it.
10. Sports The act of setting a volleyball for a teammate.
11. In Texas hold'em, a hand in which a player has two cards of the same rank and another card of that rank is among the community cards.
To begin or start: set about solving the problem.
1. To reserve for a specific use.
2. To make noticeable: character traits that set her apart.
1. To separate and reserve for a special purpose.
2. To discard or reject.
3. To declare invalid; annul or overrule: The court has set aside the conviction.
To attack or assail: The dogs set at the fox.
1. To slow down the progress of; hinder.
2. Informal To cost: That coat set me back $1,000.
To reserve for future use: It is wise to set food and money by in case of a future emergency.
1. To cause to sit; seat: Set the baby down here.
2. To put in writing; record: We set down the facts.
a. To regard; consider: Just set him down as a sneak.
b. To assign to a cause; attribute: Let's set the error down to inexperience.
4. To land (an aircraft): The pilot set the plane down hard.
5. Baseball To put out (a batter); retire. Used of a pitcher.
1. To present for consideration; propose: set forth a sound plan.
2. To express in words: She has set forth her ideas.
To begin a journey.
1. To insert: set in the sleeve of a gown.
2. To begin to happen or be apparent: "Evening was setting in as I took the road over Mountain Top" (Charles Siebert).
3. To move toward the shore. Used of wind or water.
a. To give rise to; cause to occur: set off a chemical reaction.
b. To cause to explode: set off a bomb.
c. To make suddenly or demonstrably angry: The clerk's indifference finally set me off.
2. To indicate as being different; distinguish: features setting him off from the crowd.
3. To direct attention to by contrast; accentuate: set off a passage with italics.
4. To counterbalance, counteract, or compensate for: Our dismay at her leaving was set off by our knowing that she was happy.
5. To start on a journey: set off for Europe.
1. To begin an earnest attempt; undertake: He set out to understand why the plan had failed.
2. To lay out systematically or graphically: set out a terrace.
3. To display for exhibition or sale.
4. To plant: set out seedlings.
5. To start a journey: She set out at dawn for town.
1. To begin working energetically; start in.
2. To begin fighting.
1. To place in an upright position.
a. To elevate; raise.
b. To raise in authority or power; invest with power: They set the general up as a dictator.
c. To put (oneself) forward as; claim to be: He has set himself up as an authority on the English language.
d. To assemble and erect: set up a new machine.
3. To establish; found: set up a charity.
4. To cause: They set up howls of protest over new taxes.
5. To establish in business by providing capital, equipment, or other backing.
a. To treat (someone) to drinks.
b. To pay for (drinks).
7. Informal To stimulate or exhilarate: a victory that really set the team up.
8. To lay plans for: set up a kidnapping.
9. Informal To put (someone else) into a compromising situation by deceit or trickery: Swindlers have set me up.
10. Sports To make a pass to (a teammate), creating a scoring opportunity.
To attack violently: Guards set dogs upon the escaping prisoners.
Strongly opposed to: We are dead set against the idea.
set fire to
To cause to ignite and burn.
set foot in
set foot on
To step on.
set in motion
To give impetus to: The indictment set the judicial process in motion.
Resolved to do something or strongly wishing for something: She is set on getting a role in the play.
set (one's) heart on
To be determined to do something.
set (one's) sights on
To have as a goal: She set her sights on medical school.
set on fire
1. To cause to ignite and burn.
2. To cause to become excited: The music set the audience on fire.
set sail Nautical
To begin a voyage on water.
set (someone) straight
To inform (someone) of the truth of a situation.
set store by
To regard as valuable or worthwhile.
set the pace
1. To go at a speed that other competitors attempt to match or surpass.
2. To behave or perform in a way that others try to emulate.
set the scene/stage for
To provide the underlying basis for: saber rattling that set the stage for war.
set up housekeeping
To establish a household.
set up shop
To establish one's business operations.
[Middle English setten, from Old English settan; see sed- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: Originally set meant "to cause (someone) to sit" and "to cause (something) to be in a certain position," so that it is now in most cases a transitive verb: She sets the book on the table. He sets the table. Sit is generally an intransitive verb: He sits at the table. There are some exceptions: The sun sets (not sits). A hen sets (or sits) on her eggs.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.