Meaning of SET in English

I. set 1 S1 W1 /set/ BrE AmE verb ( past tense and past participle set , present participle setting )

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: settan ]

1 . PUT [transitive always + adverb/preposition] written to carefully put something down somewhere

set something (down) on something

She set the tray down on a table next to his bed.

Mark filled the pan and set it on the stove.

set something down/aside

The workmen set the box down carefully on the floor.

Remove the mushrooms and set them aside.

2 . PUT INTO SURFACE [T always + adv/prep, usually passive] to put something into a surface

be set into something

Gates should be hung on sturdy posts set well into the ground.

be set into the wall/floor/ceiling etc (=be built into the surface of something so that it does not stick out)

an alarm button set into the wall beside the door

3 . STORY [T always + adv/prep, usually passive] if a film, play, story etc is set in a particular place or period, the action takes place there or then

be set in something

The novel is set in France.

be set against something

All this romance is set against a backdrop of rural Irish life.

4 . CONSIDER [transitive always + adverb/preposition] to consider something in relation to other things

set something against/beside something

These casualty totals have to be set against the continuing growth in traffic.

This debate should be set in an international context.

5 . ESTABLISH SOMETHING [transitive] to establish a way of doing something that is then copied or regarded as good

set the pattern/tone/trend etc (for something)

Art and literature flourished and this set the pattern for the whole of Europe.

The Prime Minister’s fierce speech set the tone for the rest of the conference.

It is important that parents set an example (=behave well) .

The outcome of the case will set a legal precedent.

His photographs set the standard for landscapes.

Freud’s views on sexuality set the agenda for much of the century (=people paid attention to the subjects he dealt with) .

6 . START SOMETHING HAPPENING [transitive] to make something start happening or to make someone start doing something

set something in motion/progress/train

A study by military experts was immediately set in motion.

The chief executive will set in train the process of finding a successor.

set something on fire/alight/ablaze (also set fire to something) (=make something start burning)

Protesters set fire to two buses.

set somebody/something doing something

Her last remark has set me thinking.

The wind set the trees rustling.

7 . DECIDE SOMETHING [transitive] to decide and state when something will happen, how much something should cost, what should be done etc

set a date/time (for something)

The government has still not set a date for the election.

International companies set the price of oil.

set standards/limits/guidelines etc

high standards of hygiene set by the Department of Health

8 . START WORKING [intransitive and transitive] to start doing something in a determined way, or to tell someone to start doing something

set to work to do something

They set to work to paint the outside of the building.

set (somebody) to work on something

He’s about to set to work on a second book.

set (somebody) to work doing something

The boys were set to work collecting firewood.

set somebody to do something

Rocard set himself to reform public sector industry.

9 . MACHINE/CLOCK ETC [transitive] to move a switch on a machine, clock etc so that it will start or stop working at the time you want, or in the way you want:

Did you set the alarm?

Remember to set the video to record the film.

set something to/at/on something

Usually, the heating is set on ‘low’.

10 . LIQUID/GLUE/CEMENT ETC [intransitive] to become hard and solid:

How long does it take for the glue to set?

11 . SUN [intransitive] when the sun sets, it moves down in the sky and disappears OPP rise

12 . set (somebody) a goal ( also set (somebody) a task/challenge British English ) to say what you or someone else will or must try to achieve:

It’s best to set realistic goals that you can achieve.

He set himself the task of learning Japanese.

13 . set your heart/mind/sights on (doing) something to want very much to have or achieve something, or to be determined to do something:

Ellen has completely set her heart on that house.

He set his sights on crossing the Pacific by balloon.

14 . set a record to achieve the best result in a sport, competition etc that has ever been achieved, by running fastest, jumping highest etc:

The Kenyan runner set a new Olympic Record in the 3,000 metres.

15 . set the table to arrange plates, knives, cups etc on a table so that it is ready for a meal SYN lay the table British English

16 . set a trap

a) to make a trap ready to catch an animal

b) to invent a plan to try and catch someone who is doing something wrong:

They decided to set a trap for him by leaving him in charge.

17 . set somebody free/loose to allow a person or an animal to be free:

All the other hostages were finally set free.

18 . set somebody straight/right to tell someone the right way to do something or the true facts about something

set somebody straight/right on

I set him right on a few points of procedure.

⇨ set something right at ↑ right 1 (4), ⇨ set the record straight at ↑ record 1 (10)

19 . FACE [intransitive] written if your face or mouth sets into a particular expression, you start to have an angry, sad, unfriendly etc expression

set into

His mouth set into a rather grim line.

20 . set your jaw to move your lower jaw forward in a way that shows your determination

21 . BONE

a) [transitive] if a doctor sets a broken bone, he or she moves it into position so that the bone can grow together again

b) [intransitive] if a broken bone sets, it joins together again

22 . CLASS WORK [transitive] British English to give a student in your class a piece of work to do

set somebody something

Mr Biggs has set us a 2,000-word essay.

23 . EXAMINATION [transitive] British English to write the questions for an examination:

The head teacher sets the questions for the English exam.

24 . PRINTING [transitive] to arrange the words and letters of a book, newspaper etc so it is ready to be printed:

In those days, books had to be set by hand.

25 . HAIR [transitive] to arrange someone’s hair while it is wet so that it has a particular style when it dries ⇨ set somebody at (their) ease at ↑ ease 1 (2), ⇨ set your face against something at ↑ face 1 (21), ⇨ set something to music at ↑ music (1), ⇨ set the pace at ↑ pace 1 (7), ⇨ set pen to paper at ↑ pen 1 (3), ⇨ set sail at ↑ sail 2 (2), ⇨ set the scene at ↑ scene (9), ⇨ set the stage for something at ↑ stage 1 (7), ⇨ set great store by/on something at ↑ store 1 (6), ⇨ set the world on fire/alight at ↑ world 1 (22), ⇨ set the world to rights at ↑ world 1 (23)

• • •

COLLOCATIONS (for Meaning 5)

■ nouns

▪ set an example (=behave well in a way that other people can copy)

Parents should try to set a good example to their teenagers.

▪ set a precedent (=do something that later actions or decisions may be based on)

This legislation would set a most dangerous precedent.

▪ set the pattern/trend (=do something in a way that is later repeated)

That first day seemed to set the pattern for the following weeks.

▪ set the tone (=establish a general mood or feeling)

The gloomy first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

▪ set the standard (=be very good, and so show how good other people or things should be)

They wanted to set the standard for software.

▪ set the agenda (=establish what subjects should be discussed)

We are not attempting to set the agenda for other women’s groups.

▪ set the pace (=move or change quickly, so that others try to do the same)

With regard to industrialization, Britain set the pace in the first half of the nineteenth century.

• • •

COLLOCATIONS (for Meaning 7)

■ nouns

▪ set a date/time

No date has been set for the election.

▪ set a price

We set the price at £30.

▪ set standards/guidelines (=decide on standards, rules etc)

The government has set new food quality standards for all school canteens.

▪ set limits

Set strict limits on your spending.

set about something/somebody phrasal verb

1 . to start doing or dealing with something, especially something that needs a lot of time and effort:

A team of volunteers set about the task with determination.

set about doing something

How do senior managers set about making these decisions?

2 . literary to attack someone by hitting and kicking them:

They set about him with their fists.

set somebody/something against somebody/something phrasal verb

1 . to make someone start to fight or quarrel with another person, especially a person who they had friendly relations with before:

The bitter civil war set brother against brother.

2 . set yourself against (doing) something to decide that you are opposed to doing or having something:

She’s set herself against going to university.

3 . set something against tax to officially record the money you have spent on something connected with your job, in order to reduce the amount of tax you have to pay

set somebody/something apart phrasal verb

1 . if a quality sets someone or something apart, it makes them different from or better than other people or things

set somebody/something apart from

Man’s ability to reason sets him apart from other animals.

2 . [usually passive] to keep something, especially a particular time, for a special purpose

set somebody/something apart for

Traditionally, these days were set apart for prayer and fasting.

set something ↔ aside phrasal verb

1 . to keep something, especially money, time, or a particular area, for a special purpose

set something ↔ aside for

Try to set aside some time each day for exercise.

a room that had been set aside for visitors

2 . to decide not to consider a particular feeling or thing because something else is more important:

Both sides agreed to set aside the question of independence.

3 . to officially state that a previous legal decision or agreement no longer has any effect:

The judge set aside the verdict of the lower court.

4 . if a farmer sets aside land, he or she agrees not to grow any crops on it, and accepts a payment from the government for this

set somebody/something back phrasal verb

1 . set somebody/something ↔ back to delay the progress or development of something, or delay someone from finishing something:

Environmental experts said the move would set back further research.

Illness had set me back a couple of weeks.

2 . informal to cost someone a lot of money

set somebody back $50/£100 etc

This jacket set me back over £1,000.

set something/somebody ↔ down phrasal verb

1 . to write about something so that you have a record of it:

I wanted to set my feelings down on paper.

2 . to state how something should be done in an official document or set of rules:

Clear guidelines have been set down for teachers.

3 . British English to stop a car, bus etc and allow someone to get out:

The driver set her down at the station.

set forth phrasal verb

1 . set something ↔ forth formal to explain ideas, facts, or opinions in a clearly organized way in writing or in a speech SYN set out :

He set forth an idealistic view of society.

2 . literary to begin a journey:

They were about to set forth on a voyage into the unknown.

set in phrasal verb

if something sets in, especially something unpleasant, it begins and seems likely to continue for a long time:

Winter seems to be setting in early this year.

Further economic decline set in during the 1930s.

set off phrasal verb

1 . to start to go somewhere:

I’ll set off early to avoid the traffic.

set off for

Jerry and I set off on foot for the beach.

2 . set something ↔ off to make something start happening, especially when you do not intend to do so:

News that the claims might be true set off widespread panic.

Hong Kong’s stock market fell, setting off a global financial crisis.


In written English, people often say that something triggers a particular reaction or event, rather than sets it off , because it sounds more formal:

This could trigger a global financial crisis.

3 . set something ↔ off to make an ↑ alarm start ringing:

Smoke from a cigarette will not normally set off a smoke alarm.

4 . set something ↔ off to make a bomb explode, or cause an explosion:

Any movement could have set off the bomb.

5 . set something ↔ off if a piece of clothing, colour, decoration etc sets something off, it makes it look attractive:

The blue sundress set off her long blonde hair.

6 . set somebody off to make someone start laughing, crying, or talking about something:

Don’t mention what happened – you’ll only set her off again.

7 . set something off against tax to officially record the money you have spent on something connected with your job, in order to reduce the amount of tax you have to pay:

Some expenses can be set off against tax.

set on somebody phrasal verb British English

1 . set somebody/something on somebody to make people or animals attack someone:

The farmer threatened to set his dogs on us.

2 . [usually passive] if you are set on by people or animals, you are suddenly attacked by them:

A thirty-five-year-old man was set on by four youths last night.

3 . set somebody on/onto somebody to give someone information about a person who you think has done something wrong, because you want that person to be found and caught:

If I refuse, he’ll set the police onto me.

set out phrasal verb

1 . to start a journey, especially a long journey

set out for

Kate set out for the house on the other side of the bay.

set out on a journey/drive/voyage etc

The band are setting out on a European tour in March.

2 . to start doing something or making plans to do something in order to achieve a particular result

set out to do something

salesmen who deliberately set out to defraud customers

set out with the idea/purpose/intention etc of doing something

They set out with the aim of becoming the number one team in the league.

3 . set something ↔ out to explain ideas, facts, or opinions in a clearly organized way, in writing or in a speech:

He set out the reasons for his decision in his report.

4 . set something ↔ out to put a group of things down and arrange them:

The market traders began setting out their displays.

5 . set out on something to start doing something, especially something new, difficult, or important:

My nephew is just setting out on a career in journalism.

set to phrasal verb British English

to start doing something eagerly and with determination:

If we all set to, we’ll finish the job in half an hour.

set up phrasal verb

1 . COMPANY/ORGANIZATION ETC to start a company, organization, committee etc SYN establish

set something ↔ up

They want to set up their own import–export business.

new regulations for setting up political parties

set (yourself) up (as something) (=start your own business)

John decided to set up as a graphic designer.

set up shop/set up in business (=begin operating a business)

Now Betterware plans to set up shop elsewhere in Europe.

2 . ARRANGE/ORGANIZE set something ↔ up to make the arrangements that are necessary for something to happen:

I’ll set up an appointment for you.

There was a lot of work involved in setting up the festival.

3 . EQUIPMENT to prepare the equipment that will be needed for an activity so that it is ready to be used:

The next band was already setting up on the other stage.

set something ↔ up

Can someone set the overhead projector up?

4 . BUILD/PUT UP set something ↔ up to place or build something somewhere, especially something that is not permanent:

They’ve set up roadblocks around the city.

5 . TRICK SOMEBODY set somebody ↔ up informal to trick someone in order to achieve what you want, especially to make it appear that they have done something wrong or illegal:

Cox claimed that the police had tried to set him up.

6 . PROVIDE MONEY set somebody ↔ up British English informal to provide someone with money that they need, especially in order to start a business:

After he qualified as a doctor, his mother set him up in a practice of his own.

Selling her share of the company has set her up for life.

7 . HEALTHY/FULL OF ENERGY set somebody up British English to make you feel healthy and full of energy:

A good breakfast will set you up for the day.

8 . set yourself up as something to deliberately make people believe that you have the authority and skill to do something, especially when this is not true:

politicians who set themselves up as moral authorities

9 . PUT SOMEBODY IN POSITION set somebody up to put someone in a position in which they are able to do something, or in which something is likely to happen to them

set somebody up for

If he won the fight, it would set him up for a title shot.

Anyone with public duties sets themselves up for attack.

10 . RELATIONSHIP set somebody ↔ up informal to arrange for two people to meet, because you think they might start a romantic relationship:

‘How did you meet Nick?’ ‘A friend set us up.’

11 . set up home/house ( also set up housekeeping American English ) to get your own home, furniture etc, especially when you leave your parents’ home to live with a wife, husband, or partner:

Many parents try to help their children set up home.

12 . set up a commotion/din/racket etc to start making a loud unpleasant noise:

The party guests were setting up a steady din.

⇨ set up camp at ↑ camp 1 (1)

II. set 2 S1 W1 BrE AmE noun

[ Sense 1-2, 5-6, 8-10: Date: 1300-1400 ; Language: Old French ; Origin: sette , from Latin secta ; ⇨ ↑ sect ]

[ Sense 3-4, 7, 11: Date: 1300-1400 ; Origin: ⇨ ↑ set 1 ]

1 . GROUP OF THINGS [countable] a group of similar things that belong together or are related in some way

set of

a set of tools

We face a new set of problems.

The older generation have a different set of values.

a chess set

2 . TELEVISION/RADIO [countable] a television, or a piece of equipment for receiving radio signals:

a colour television set

3 . FILM [countable] a place where a film or television programme is filmed

on set/on the set

Cruise met Kidman on the set of ‘Days of Thunder’.

4 . STAGE [countable] the scenery, furniture etc used on a stage in a play or in the place where a film or television show is being made

5 . SPORT [countable] one part of a game such as tennis or ↑ volleyball :

Nadal won the second set 6–4.

6 . PEOPLE [singular] a group of people who are similar in some way and spend time together socially:

a favourite meeting place of the smart set (=rich and fashionable people)

Val got in with a wild set at college.

⇨ ↑ jet set

7 . the set of sb’s face/jaw/shoulders etc the expression on your face or the way you hold your body, which tells people how you are feeling:

From the set of her shoulders, it was clear that Sue was exhausted.

the hard set of his face

8 . MUSIC [countable] a performance by a singer, band, or ↑ disc jockey :

Sasha performed a three-hour set.

9 . MATHS [countable] technical a group of numbers, shapes etc in ↑ mathematics :

The set (x, y) has two members.

10 . STUDENTS [countable] British English a group of children who are taught a particular school subject together because they have the same level of ability in that subject SYN stream

top/bottom etc set

Adam’s in the top set for maths.

11 . ONION [countable] a small onion that you plant in order to grow bigger ones:

onion sets

III. set 3 BrE AmE adjective

[ Date: 1200-1300 ; Origin: Past participle of ⇨ ↑ set 1 ]

1 . PLACED [not before noun] being in the position that is mentioned

set in/on/back etc

a medieval village set high on a hill

a big house set back from the road

2 . BACKGROUND used to say that something is in front of a particular background, especially in a way that is attractive

set against

a small town of white buildings, set against a background of hills

pink petals set against dark green foliage

3 . FIXED [only before noun] a set amount, time etc is fixed and is never changed:

We were paid a set amount each week.

The evening meal is served at a set time.

Small children like a set routine.

4 . READY [not before noun] informal someone who is set for something is ready for it

set for

Are you all set for the trip?

set to do something

I was just set to go when the phone rang.

Get set (=get ready) for a night of excitement.

On your marks – get set – go (=said to start a race) .

5 . set on/upon/against (doing) something determined about something:

Nina’s set on going to the party.

The government’s dead set (=completely determined) against the plan.

6 . OPINIONS/HABITS ETC not likely to change:

People had very set ideas about how to bring up children.

Mark was 65 and rather set in his ways (=habits) .

7 . have your heart/sights set on something to want to do something very much, or to be aiming to do something:

She’s got her heart set on going to France this summer.

Don has his sights set on a career in law.

8 . set to do something likely to do something:

The weather is set to change.

This issue is set to cause some embarrassment.

9 . deep-set/wide-set/close-set eyes eyes whose position is deep in the face, far apart on the face, or close together on the face

10 . be set with gems/jewels etc to be decorated with jewels:

a gold bracelet set with rubies

11 . MEAL [only before noun] British English a set meal in a restaurant has a fixed price and a more limited choice than usual

set lunch/dinner/menu

The hotel does a very good set menu.

12 . set book/text etc British English a book that must be studied for an examination

13 . FIXED EXPRESSION literary if your face is set, it has a fixed expression on it, especially one that is angry, worried etc:

He stared at her, his face set.

Kate’s face was set in a grim expression.

set smile/teeth/jaw

‘Damn you,’ he said through set teeth.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.