The book doctor shares usage advice for the self-publishing author. Always have your work professionally edited, but why not save your editor some work…
Q: Once in a while the word “sits” comes up in our [southern city] writers group, and another member (in her seventies) and I (at eighty-three years) always wonder what is right. When she and I were growing up, the word “sets” was used for an object, not “sits,” as it seems to be used these days. An example is this: A potted plant sits on the windowsill. In my day and age, it would have been this: A potted plant sets on the window sill. Could you please straighten us out once and for all?
A: I’ve found that southerners more than others confuse the two words “sit” and “set.” I hope the following sets the record straight:
Set means the following:
1. place something: “Please set the flowers on the table.”
2. cause somebody to be something: “After a hearing, the judge set the prisoner free.”
3. cause something to begin doing something: “His smile set my heart at ease.”
4. apply fire: “The camper set fire to his refuse.”
5. concentrate mind: “He set his mind to finding an answer.”
6. arrange something for use: “Hunters set traps in the woods.”
The definitions go on, but to sum up, “set” usually shows action that is done to something (a direct object).
Sit means the following:
1. rest with weight on buttocks: “The children always sit in the same places.”
2. be placed: “The trash still sat where we left it.”
Again, the word has other definitions as well, but unlike “set,” “sit” does not, indeed cannot, take a direct object. We cannot sit something down; we must set something down.
In the example of “A potted plant sits on the windowsill,” the verb “sits” is correct. If you wanted to show the action being done TO something, the correct verb would be “set,” as in this example: “I set the potted plant on the windowsill.”
By the way, using “set” for “sit” in a character’s dialogue would be a great way to show that the character is from the South.
What’s your question about writing or publishing? Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com.