What does "set to win" mean in the expression "Conservatives Set to Win Majority"?

In particular, is the noun "conservatives" the agent of "setting to win" in the sense that they are doing the action of setting to win (as in "Conservatives are reluctant to leave"), or is it not (as in "Conservatives are likely to win")?

3 Answers 3


Conservatives Set to Win Majority

is a shortened form of

Conservatives Are Set to Win A Majority

It's a state of being; "the Conservatives" is not the subject of "set" here, and "set to win (a) majority" is an adjective phrase here.

So, it's not technically a grammatical sentence, but newspaper headlines can omit words in stereotyped, recognizable ways and it sounds OK in that context. No one would say this in conversation! But it actually signals that you're quoting a newspaper headline.

Therefore, the second of your two readings is correct here!

(It's also totally OK to use full sentences in headlines - this sort of thing is a style that was developed when block printing was the current technology and it cost more money to print a paper with more letters!)

  • There is also the idiom "set out to...", which means to begin to do or strive for something - as in "The Conservatives have set out to win a majority". But that isn't what was meant in the headline.
    – BadZen
    Dec 15, 2019 at 3:43
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    But it's not completely parallel to my second reading (the one with "likely"), right? This is because one can use expletives "it" or "there" with "likely" ("It is likely that ...", "there is likely to be ..."), but such "it" or "there" cannot be used with "be set to", right?
    – user91073
    Dec 15, 2019 at 3:54
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    That is exactly correct! Some verbs just don't take empty subject ("it", "there") and there's no reason why they do or don't! We would never say "It is set that". Instead, say "It is almost certain that..." or "It appears that" or "likely".
    – BadZen
    Dec 15, 2019 at 4:20
  • Thanks! I was also wondering if "be set to" can be used in idioms? For example, is "the cat is set to be out of the bag" still idiomatic?
    – user91073
    Dec 15, 2019 at 4:30
  • No, that sounds slightly weird. But it's the use of "set" there, and not the fact that the idiom was interrupted. For example, "the cat will finally be out of the bag" is just fine. I don't think there is a reason why this is (Maybe it doesn't work because "set" somehow makes the listener think of the cat as an actual cat and destroys the metronym?) "Set" is kind of weird / difficult word. It has over 40 denotations in the Merriam-Webster dictionary! So it might be best to just use it with phrases you've already heard, especially in this use.
    – BadZen
    Dec 15, 2019 at 15:30

"set to", "expected to" and "poised to" are synonyms in the following context:

In 1916, Hilary Clinton lost an election that she was set to win.

=In 1916, Hilary Clinton lost an election that she was expected to win.

=In 1916, Hilary Clinton lost an election that she was poised to win.

The three sentences have the same meaning.


set to do something = is an idiom,

set to do something means: be about to do something.

Here, the conservative are about to win the election.

set in English used like that means to be in a position to do something, be about to do something or be ready to do something.

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