In the following sentence, should I use "set", "set out" or "set up"?

The government has set/set up/set out strict limits on public spending this year.

Do the 3 of them have the same meaning? What would be the differences in nuance? My dictionary has (among other definitions for each verb) "arrange sth" for the 3 of them, so I'm confused about their usage when you want to say "arrange/establish something"

Thank you

  • “set” is the only correct one in this context, but I’ll have to leave why to someone else.
    – StephenS
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 1:00
  • Set up, a verb phrase has a different meaning. E.g., When I started my new job, it took me a while to get used to the set-up. "Nice little set-up you've got here," he said as we showed him around the house. Set out is also a verb phrase with different meanings: He set out to become chief executive. I don't set out to annoy him - it just seems to happen. He set out to crush all his enemies. (Source: Google/ Cambridge diction)
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 1:24

1 Answer 1


As said in the comments, "set" is the one that should be used in this context.

I would say that a good rule of thumb is that "set up" is used for physical things, and "set out" is used for actions. For example, you would say "I set up the tent", or "Can you go set up the stage for the performance?" Similarly, as mentioned in the comments, you would say "he set out to become chief executive", or "she set out at dawn on the trail".

In this specific sentence, there's not really anything physical, so "set up" doesn't apply, which is why "set" is used. You could also make a slight modification to the sentence to make "set up" correct, but not for "set out". For example: "The government has set up a committee to limit public spending this year", or something along those lines.

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