I have a question about the usage of the verb "set". According to usages on the web, it seems that for the following pair:

(context: computer screen desktop background and some photo)
1a. He set the desktop background to that photo.
1b. He set that photo as the desktop background.

sentence 1b is a standard English alternative to sentence 1a.

Does that mean that for the following pair:

(context: house thermostat )
2a. He set the thermostat temperature to 70F.
2b. He set 70F as the thermostat temperature.

sentence 2b is a standard English alternative to sentence 2a?

  • 2
    meatie -- Please try to choose better tags for your questions. "meaning", "grammar", and "usage" are almost useless as tags. If you are asking about the usage of a particular word, you can use the "word-usage" tag. You do not need to put the same three bad tags on all of your questions. One good tag is good enough.
    – Jasper
    Jan 28 '16 at 6:41

The word set is used in many different ways.

Have a look at the definitions of set in Oxford Dictionaries Online.

Definition 3.2 works with your sentence 1a:

3.2 Adjust (a device) so that it performs a particular operation: you have to be careful not to set the volume too high

Definition 1 works with your sentence 1b:

1 Put, lay, or stand (something) in a specified place or position: Catherine set a chair by the bed

Your second set of sentences (2a, 2b) are equivalent: one uses set (target) to (level) while the other uses set (level) as (target). Between the two, though, 2a sounds more conversational.


Yes, that is correct.

Functionally, it's the equivalent of 1 + 2 = 3 versus 2 + 1 = 3. Both of the 'b' sentences convey the same information, it's simply the order of delivery (what was set, what it was set to) that changed.

  • I don't agree. Changing the order would be "He set to 70F the thermostat temperature." That's awkward, but perfectly fine, there's no question it's correct. The example 2b seems different to me. Jan 28 '16 at 5:24

Good question. 2b is uncommon, I don't know if it's incorrect, but it's not common usage. Common usage is set "object" to "setting".

The reason I think 1b is fine is because it isn't an example of the same use as 1a and 2a. 1b is more like laying objects out, like setting a table, or setting a book on a shelf. You're setting a photo as your background. Because a photo is an object and not a setting or option like 70F, it can be used this way.

  • Could sentence 1b be a usage (set "setting" as "object") created by the tech field?
    – meatie
    Jan 28 '16 at 5:37
  • No, I doubt it. This specific usage definitely was created by the tech industry, but as far as I know, there's no other usage like it. I can't think of a "set 'setting' as 'object'" at all, in fact. I think this is "set 'object' as 'role of object'". Like appointing a certain person as sheriff. Jan 28 '16 at 5:45
  • Your last answer "No, I doubt it. This specific usage definitely was created by the tech industry" was slight ambiguous.
    – meatie
    Feb 9 '16 at 19:36

Both can be used as well as there is no grammatical errors in those sentences, after all, the purpose of language is to communicate effectively.

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