I'm studying phrasal verbs from a book called MacMillan Phrasal Verbs Plus, and I'm studying the "Down" particle. In a page of the book, there is a diagram showing the various meanings of the "Down" particle and there are 2 sentences showing those apparently different meanings, shown in the image below, however it seems to me that those sentences have the same meaning, don't they?

Do the two sentences have the same meaning?

Do the verbs "set" and "place" mean the same thing in those sentences?

Sentence 1: Placing something on a surface

Sentence 2: Set something on a surface

Placing vs setting



Due to FumbleFingers's suggestion the question has been moved here

  • @FumbleFingers Thank you for your response. I don't have more context for these verbs, only what has been provided for the diagram in the book. I'm gonna publish my question in the site for English Learners. Dec 8, 2022 at 20:51
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    Set is the causative of sit, just as raise is the causative of rise and lay is the causative of lie. All of these verbs refer to the orientation of the object. One lays the fork on the table, for instance, because forks are long, so they metaphorically lie. Similarly, one sets the bottle on the table, rather than laying it, because it needs to be vertical, not horizontal. Place is a general verb meaning to cause to be in a certain place, without reference to the status of the object. Dec 8, 2022 at 21:45
  • @JohnLawler thanks. However, I didn't understand well the meaning of causative in your explanation. Could you provide another explanation or a link to a page that explain about "set" and its causative? Dec 8, 2022 at 21:49
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    A causative verb is a verb that means 'to cause something to happen'. Usually that is some other verb. So set means 'cause to sit', lay means 'cause to lie', and raise means 'cause to rise'. Just as kill means 'cause to die'. Dec 8, 2022 at 21:53
  • @JohnLawler so the sentence "set something on a surface" is equivalent to "to sit something on a surface"? Dec 8, 2022 at 21:58

1 Answer 1


In this particular context involving an object being moved onto a surface, "set" and "place" mean very close to the same thing.

My reaction is that "set" implies a slightly higher level of care or attention than "place" implies, or that the process is a slightly neater or more controlled one. For example, if someone tells you to "set" a ball on a table, I would say that it implies that the ball should be placed on the table in such a way that it doesn't roll around after you release it. "Place" also implies a relatively attentive process (certainly in comparison to "put"), but perhaps not quite as much as "set." The difference is really minimal.

Of course, in other contexts, these verbs might not be so close. If we get rid of the surface, for example, things change. You might "place" your dirty laundry in a laundry bag (although even this is a bit of a formal way of saying it), but it would sound really weird to "set" your laundry in the bag. Perhaps the reason that this doesn't work is that, as noted above, "set" is a more careful process that probably gets the object into a neat and still position, as would usually occur on a surface.

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    But I have noticed that at least some Americans say set where I would say put: for example "Father Paul set the lamp on the table", with no implication of greater care. This may be an old-fashioned or regional use, but I have encountered it more than once.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 8, 2022 at 23:37
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    @ColinFine, yes, maybe so. I think "put" is by far the most common option in the U.S., too, with some old-timers more likely to use "set." But a lamp is kind of something that really should be put down with some attention, and normally is, so the distinction doesn't really come into play.
    – cruthers
    Dec 9, 2022 at 0:09
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    either way, I (BrE) would be unlikely to use "set" there at all.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 9, 2022 at 11:00
  • Your 'reaction' is wrong - to place something denotes the more precise positioning of something on another thing. For example, a plane may 'set down' on a runway the moment its wheels touch the tarmac, but that is not its permanent placement. To set down simply means to put one thing on top of another. Placing something means to put it in a specific place. I think you may have got confused with 'setting a table', which does not mean putting the table somewhere specific, rather placing cutlery etc in specific places on the table.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 15, 2022 at 13:39
  • @Astralbee, your plane analogy doesn't make sense. You're comparing something "setting down" on its own with somebody "setting" something on a surface. These apparently just work differently. I would think you would understand at least that. A plane "setting down" is not used in AmE and I would wonder if, when used in BrE, it does suggest a stoppage of movement. In AmE, if someone said that a flying animal or object "set down" somewhere, which would not be common at all, I actually would interpret it as suggesting a stoppage.
    – cruthers
    Dec 15, 2022 at 16:09

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