Word study: set

The verb SET may have different meanings in different contexts. Let us learn some of them.

a) to put somebody or something somewhere – She set her book on the table.

b) to cause something or somebody to begin doing something – He sets my heart thumping.

c) to apply something to an object that will cause it to burn – They set fire to the house.

d) to focus your mind on a goal – Once he sets his mind to it, he can find a solution.

e) to solidify; cause something to become solid or hard – It takes 2 hours for concrete to set.

f) to arrange or to prepare something to be used – Jim has learned how to set the table.

g) to reach a decision about something such as time – They have set their wedding date.

h) to establish something that determines the direction of the future – The Parliament decided to set a limit to government spending.

i) to establish something that others will follow – She set an example for her younger brother.

Idiomatic English

Idiom Meaning Example
set a precedent to establish a pattern to be followed in the future He set a precedent by having the chaplain lead the academic procession.
set a trap to prepare a trap to catch a person who is doing something wrong or illegal They decided to set a trap for him by leaving him in charge.
set about to (do something or go somewhere) to begin something After putting up the tent, she set about making a fire.
set back (someone or something) to cause someone/something to get behind schedule New violence has set back the peace process.
set eyes on (someone or something) to see for the first time I knew when I set eyes on that car that it was the car for me.
set foot on to step on or go somewhere for the first time We were so happy to set foot on dry land.
set foot in to enter I’ll never set foot in this house again.
set forth (something) to explain something exactly or clearly She set her ideas forth in an organized and interesting manner.
set in stone to be very difficult or impossible to change The schedule isn’t set in stone, but we’d like to follow it pretty closely.

Phrasal verbs with set

Phrasal verb Meaning
set aside to keep or save something from a larger amount or supply in order to use it later for a particular purpose
set apart to make someone or something different and special
set about to start to do or deal with something
set down to state officially how something should be done; to consider something in a particular way
set forth to start a journey, especially one that is long or difficult; to explain or describe something in a clear and detailed way, especially in writing.
set in to if something unpleasant sets in, it starts to happen and have an effect, and is not likely to stop for a long time.
set off to start a journey, or start going in a particular direction; to make something/somebody explode; to cause something to operate, or a series of events to happen, especially by accident
set up to start something such as a business; to organise or plan something such as an event or system; to build a structure, or put it in a particular place
set upon to attack someone or something

1. The High Court ————– the decree of the lower court.

a) set aside
b) set off
c) set up
d) set about

2. In England, winter —————- December.

a) sets in
b) sets up
c) sets down
d) set apart

3. He immediately —————- organizing the program.

a) set about
b) set out
c) set aside
d) set off

4. The pilgrims —————- in the morning.

a) set off
b) set up
c) set down
d) set upon

5. The robbers ————– the poor traveler.

a) set upon
b) set forth
c) set in
d) set off

6. These seats are ————— for ladies.

a) set apart
b) set for
c) set upon
d) set off

7. The smoke ————— the fire alarm.

a) set off
b) set upon
c) set down
d) set on

8. The accused alleged that somebody had ———— him ————–

a) set up
b) set off
c) set out
d) set down

9. What ———— you ————— to do that?

a) set on
b) set off
c) set down
d) set up

10. In his speech, he ————- his ideas clearly.

a) set forth
b) set upon
c) set in
d) set down



1. a) set aside (annulled)
2. a) sets in (start)
3. a) set about (took steps towards)
4. a) set off (started)
5. a) set upon (attacked)
6. a) set apart (reserved)
7. a) set off
8. a) set up (trapped)
9. a) set on (instigate)
10. a) set forth


Source “phrasal verbs with set”: https://www.englishpractice.com/vocabulary/phrasal-verbs-set/
Image credit: Sandis Helvigs (unsplash.com)