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In a television show I heard chef Gordon Ramsay say: "I was set at this table by the waitress." However it is also possible that he said: "I was sat at this table by the waitress."

For me as a foreigner it is impossible to distinguish the pronounciation of "set" versus "sat". Are native English speakers able to hear a subtle difference between the two?

It is clear to me that the meaning of the sentence is "I was seated at this table by the waitress." Now this may well coincide with the meaning of "set". Webster's Dicitionary gives as the first two meanings: (1a) to cause to sit; make assume a sitting position; (1b) to place in or on a seat. On the other hand, it is my understanding that "I was sat" -while officially incorrect English- is a familiar expression used in certain regions of England.

Is it possible that any such unofficial usage of the word "sat" finds its origin in confusion over the pronounciation of "set" and "sat" and/or the similarity in meaning (as both are related to sitting)?

What would be the correct present tense version of what Gordon Ramsay said?

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  • What people say in passing cannot serve as a model of what's correct, only what's clear enough in daily exchange, ya know? In the Deep South, people will tell you to set a spell when they mean stay seated. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 16:48
  • "I was sat [there]" is an incorrect, but commonly heard version of "I was sitting there", but "sat there by the waitress" uses the verb transitively. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 17:18
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    My place was set at this table by the waitress. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 17:51
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    For all his legendary swearing, I think Gordon Ramsey is relatively "well-spoken", so I would not expect him to use sat in the cited context (it's a very "low register" alternative to seated). He being in the restaurant business, I think it's perfectly natural that he should use set (as a slightly less common alternative to put, placed) even though most native speakers would probably use seated. Don't forget that you set (or lay) the table for diners, at home OR in a restaurant. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 18:16
  • @KateBunting Nevertheless, it's good to see people at least trying to stick to the official rules, as published by the English Academy. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 21:52

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However it is also possible that he said: "I was sat at this table by the waitress."

Yes, that is what you heard.

Are native English speakers able to hear a subtle difference between the two [sat, set]?

Yes: clearly.

On the other hand, it is my understanding that "I was sat" -while officially incorrect English- is a familiar expression used in certain regions of England.

It is not incorrect English. You can say "seated" but that is slightly different from "sat".

Is it possible that any such unofficial usage of the word "sat" finds its origin in confusion over the pronunciation of "set" and "sat"

No. I have said that native speakers make the distinction easily.

and/or the similarity in meaning?

As set is no longer used to mean sit - no.

I sit, I sat, I have sat, Passive: I have been sat at the larger table by the waitress.

OED

1b. transitive. With prepositional phrase as complement. To cause (a person) to be seated in a specified place or position.

1650 T. Bayly Herba Parietis 124 I like the seat no more than if he had sat me upon the stoole of sad repentance.

2001 J. Coe Rotters' Club (2002) 18 Take a few shop stewards, invite them upstairs, sit them round the conference table, make them feel important.

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  • Many English restaurants have a sign saying 'Please wait here to be seated'. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 7:12

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