My friend wanted to sell his car but he didn't know whom to sell so he asked me to help him by finding potential customers for his car.

After a few days he phoned me and said:

Have you found someone who wants to buy a second-hand car.

I replied:

I'm sorry! I haven't yet found anyone but I have set many channels and soon I will be able to tell you.

Here by saying set many channels I wanted to say that I had told a lot of people about his car and I also told them to tell their friends and relatives as well about the car.

I have heard many non-native speakers using this phrase.

The logic, I think, behind the phrase is:

As water comes through channels of water, information and replies will also come through the channels.

How do native speakers say this?

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    This native speaker would be much more likely to say established means [of achieving or communicating something] rather than set channels. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 11:22
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    I wouldn't talk about "setting channels" in any context, no. And I doubt many if any native speakers would either. But I can understand the meaning you intended it to convey, and it's certainly syntactically valid. If you want an idiomatically established usage, consider I've put out (some) feelers. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 11:45
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    @user100323 in answer to your question in the comment, "is not wrong?..." - it is totally wrong. (Whether it is "grammatical" is utterly meaningless. The sentence "My instant milked intrigue" is completely grammatical. Any incorrect spelling is "grammatical", any completely wrong use of words is "grammatical". The phrase, in answer to your headline question "set channels" is WRONG in English.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 17:14
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    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica: Set channels has a meaning but not in this context. Set channels is what you do to have your TV remember where your favorite shows are.
    – Joshua
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 18:14
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    Is "set channels" as you used it a word-for-word translation of an expression in your own language? You say that you have heard the expression used by many non-native speakers - were they all speakers of your language? I ask this because it doesn't seem natural for everyone but native English speakers to naturally come up with that particular combination of English words. Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 20:08

10 Answers 10


This usage of channel could roughly be a literal channel (and unclear), or figurative, as in a means of communication (M-W). The idea seems right, but it's not idiomatic. Perhaps, I've gone through the proper channels, but it's not clear what that would be (an agency? social media?).

Anyway, if you want to express that you told people, you could use simple expressions like

  • I told people.
  • I reached out to my friends.
  • I let family know about this.
  • etc.

If you're looking for an idiom, I'd just say ... I've spread the word and I'll get back to you soon.

spread the word
to communicate a message to a lot of people:
We've arranged a meeting for next Thursday so if you see anyone do spread the word. (Cambridge Dictionary)

spread the word idiom
Definition of spread the word : to tell others
// People are spreading the word about his book.
// Spread the word that we're leaving in five minutes.

  • 4
    +1 for finding the correct idiom. Trying to make "channel" work in this context feels clunky, even though it seems theoretically ok.
    – Jason
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 1:18
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    I've put the word out would be very similar and proper sounding to a native speaker.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 12:54
  • @Jason : How do you feel about "opened/initiated several channels of inquiry"? One subtle difficulty I have with "set channels" is that this use of "set" sounds completed, but OP intends to say that the task is not yet completed. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 21:14
  • @EricTowers, yes - I have the same trouble with "set". It could mean either "started" or "completed". I can see "opened several channels of inquiry" much more easily. Very formal however - suitable for a business report. Not so comfortable in ordinary conversation. And since I live in Australia, I'd be quite comfortable reading "we asked around" in a business report. :)
    – Jason
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 23:20

The metaphor of "channels of communication" is sound, and would probably be understood.

The most fundamental problem with your proposed phrase is the choice of verb: although "set" has many meanings, none of them are appropriate here. I think the most common verb for creating metaphorical channels would be that we have "opened" them; so:

... I have opened many channels and soon I will be able to tell you.

This is now less obviously wrong, but you should also be aware of the impression it will give: this idea of "channels of communication" has an air of business jargon, so your listener may think you're using deliberately fancy language to impress.

If you want it to sound natural to a native speaker, it would be better to go with one of the suggestions in other answers.

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    Personally (native speaker, grew up in California), I don't think this is any better than the original (and the original isn't something you can say in English) - there's not much chance anyone's going to understand what you're trying to say. "Channels of communication" is definitely a phrase, but you're asking people to make a leap from plain "channels" - it's just not going to happen without more explanation. Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 16:28
  • 1
    I think this is much better than the original, because it uses an appropriate verb. It is still obscure and is awkward phrasing in this context, but at least it does not have the meaning that "setting channels" does in English. (See the comments under the question about setting channels on a TV or radio.) It's not correct in my opinion, but it's far less wrong.
    – David K
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 11:36

Besides the already-multiply-answered "put out some feelers" and "spread the word," I'd like to add the idiomatic English-language metaphor of "planting seeds" and waiting to see what germinates:

I'm sorry! I haven't yet found anyone, but I have planted some seeds and may have something for you soon.

All of these metaphors vaguely imply that you've done your part and the matter is out of your hands now — you've sown the seeds and are now just waiting passively to see if anything sprouts. To imply that the ball is still in your court, and set more of an expectation in your friend's mind that you will soon follow up with more concrete news, you might use a mechanical metaphor such as

I haven't yet found anyone, but I have set some wheels in motion and may have something for you soon.

I haven't yet found anyone, but I have started some balls rolling and may have something for you soon.

A planted seed may silently fail to germinate, but a rolling ball will eventually reach some conclusion one way or another.

Incidentally, I semi-consciously changed "many Xs" to "some Xs." For some reason, "many" feels psychologically wrong to me here.


The answer is "NO".

(The given sentence sounds like a textbook example of "broken English" or "foreign English".)

  • 3
    The OP also asked: How do native speakers say this?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 16:20

The word "channel" in this context is fine. We use "channel" in this figurative way quite often, for example "channels of communication". Just a literal channel connects one thing to another, a channel can refer to any connection between two parties.

In your specific example, there may be various different ways to sell a car - different persons or parties you could contact - and these could be referred to as your channels.

However, you haven't used the word correctly in the sentence. What doesn't sound correct is "setting" a channel. That doesn't really mean anything - how do you "set" a channel?

Perhaps you have mixed two phrases up? When we begin something, we may say that we "set it in motion".

Maybe you wanted to say:

I haven't found anyone yet, but I have many channels and I have set them all in motion.

This is still somewhat of a mixed metaphor but it would be understood.

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    Your first sentence is a bit confusing. How is their use of the word simultaneously fine and not correct?
    – Kat
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 20:04
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    @Kat It's fine. but not quite correct. Like a mostly full cup; fine if you're thirsty, but not quite full.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 21:30
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    In American English, it's far enough from fine that if I heard it, I'd have to ask what he meant because you "set channels" on a TV, not by talking to people. When "channels" is used to describe talking to people, it's usually with the specific phrase "opening channels of communication," and isn't used in normal conversation. And wouldn't be the right meaning for OP's context in any case. A more colloquial phrase around here would be "putting out feelers," but a straightforward "Asking around" or "asking people about it" is probably more universal.
    – Karen
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 21:53
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    Perhaps the nearest correct-sounding version would be ‘set up (some) channels’?
    – gidds
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 21:54
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    @gidds: Even that comes across as (at best) a real stretch. You don't create channels, they already exist, and you communicate through them. This is the case with TV channels (which are just subdivisions of the preexisting EM spectrum), literal waterway channels (oppose canals, which are artificial), and most other common uses of the word.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 0:40

In that context, no, it's not idiomatic English (but might be understood by some people, I understood it without having to think about it, but I'm a rather atypical native English speaker in many respects).

You are largely correct about your assessment of the meaning of 'channels' in this context, with the common phrase being 'channels of communication'. These days though the association for many people is more along the lines of channels in the telecommunications sense (for example, television channels).

The use of 'set' here is the part that makes it unidiomatic. 'Set' by itself as the choice of verb makes very little sense, as the only typical meaning of 'set' when the object it applies to is a channel or channels is 'configured' (essentially, it's treated as if it were instead the phrasal verb 'set up').

However, there also isn't really any other verb in English that pairs well with 'channels' to mean exactly what you seem to be trying to say. Personally, instead of 'set many channels' I would probably say 'spread the word', which is a very idiomatic phrase (at least in the Midwestern American English that I was raised speaking) that means pretty much exactly what you seem to be trying to say. If instead the goal was to emphasize the search instead of the act of putting the information out there for other people to find, I would probably use 'put out feelers' (An admittedly very strange sounding idiom that also can mean almost exactly the same thing as 'spread the word').

  • 4
    One can open channels, navigate channels, explore channels* Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 23:34
  • @chasly-reinstateMonica However, none of those quite fit with what the OP is trying to say. 'explore' comes close though. Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 1:32


Do not use "channels" at all here. "Channels" refers to existing, formalized or semi-formalized lines of communication. You might "go through the proper channels" to register a complaint with some local authority, or to send an inter-agency memo. You might go through "back-channels" to circumvent the usual methods (though that's less common). A large organization might see someone 'establish' a channel, but that would refer to something analogous to one country sending an ambassador to another.

The idiomatic expression you're looking for here is "put out feelers." You can also just say that you talked to some people, which is perfectly idiomatic as well.

  • 2
    This answer is 1000% correct.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 15:26
  • this is how we do it in norway too,telling the person that i have put out some feelers and this is the same as saying i have asked some people to spread the word. Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 15:46

Yes but not in the way you mean

The phrase "set channels" is used but not in the way you suggest. The word "set" can be used as an adjective., meaning "fixed" or "conventional".


I went through the set channels means I went through the normal channels (or fixed channels).


No, this would not be idiomatic for North American English speakers, despite the use of "channels" in certain formal and technical contexts.

Idomatic options would include "I've got some avenues I'm going to explore", or, more plainly, "there are some people I'm going to talk to about it".


I'd use set up:

I haven't found anyone yet, but I've set up many channels of communication.

In that context, "set up" would mean "establish" - ie. you've established contact with many people and have an open channel of communication with them for further negotiation. It's still a little obtuse, but it's probably the closest one can get to your original sentence.


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