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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
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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.

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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. – modulusshift Jan 28 '16 at 5:24
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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. – modulusshift 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
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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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