Language: Old English
Origin: settan


1 verb
set1 S1 W1 past tense and past participle set, present participle setting


[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.

put into surface

[transitive always + adverb/preposition 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


[transitive always + adverb/preposition 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.


[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.

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).

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)
Protestors set fire to two buses.
set somebody/something doing something
Her last remark has set me thinking.
The wind set the trees rustling.

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

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.

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:
Remember to set the video to record the film.
set something to/at/on something
Usually the heating is set on 'low'.

liquid/glue/cement etc

[intransitive] to become hard and solid:
How long does it take for the glue to set?


[intransitive]DN when the sun sets, it moves down in the sky and disappears [≠ rise]

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.

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.

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 3000 metres.

set the table

DFDH to arrange plates, knives, cups etc on a table so that it is ready for a meal [= lay the table British English]

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.

set somebody free/loose

to allow a person or an animal to be free:
All the other hostages were finally set free.

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 right1 (4)

; ➔ set the record straight

at record1 (10)


[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.

set your jaw

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


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

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 2000-word essay.


[transitive] British EnglishSE to write the questions for an examination:
The head teacher sets the questions for the English exam.


TCN [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.


[transitive]DC 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 ease1 (2)

➔ set your face against something

at face1 (21)

➔ set something to music

at music (1)

➔ set the pace

at pace1 (7)

➔ set pen to paper

at pen1 (3)

➔ set sail

at sail2 (2)

➔ set the scene

at scene (9)

➔ set the stage for something

at stage1 (7)

➔ set great store by/on something

at store1 (6)

➔ set the world on fire/alight

at world1 (22)

➔ set the world to rights

at world1 (23)

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.

set yourself against (doing) something

to decide that you are opposed to doing or having something:
She's set herself against going to university.

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.
3SCL 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

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 £1000.

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 EnglishTT to stop a car, bus etc and allow someone to get out:
The driver set her down at the station.

set forth

phrasal verb

set something ↔ forth

formal to explain ideas, facts, or opinions in a clearly organized way in writing or in a speech [= 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.

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.

set something ↔ off

to make an alarm start ringing:
Smoke from a cigarette will not normally set off a smoke alarm.

set something ↔ off

SCB to make a bomb explode, or cause an explosion:
Any movement could have set off the bomb.

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.

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.

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

set somebody 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.

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.

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.

set something ↔ out

to put a group of things down and arrange them:
The market traders began setting out their displays.

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
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

company/organization etc

to start a company, organization, committee etc [= 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.


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.


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?

build/put up

set something ↔ up

to place or build something somewhere, especially something that is not permanent:
They've set up road blocks around the city.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.


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.'

set up home/house


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.

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 camp1 (1)

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