I recently came across this usage of sat in a mystery novel:
She sat a pitcher of fresh, thick cream in the middle of the table.
This is incorrect. Sat is the past tense of sit, as in, “She sat at the table, picked up the pitcher of cream, and poured the entire contents over the bowl of blackberries before her.” Sat also serves as an abbreviation for saturated, or for Saturday. As far as I know, that’s it. Sat is simple. (If you know differently, I’d like to hear from you.)
Set is far more complicated. It has a surprising number of meanings, and the first is “to put or place with care.” This is the usage the writer of the first example above intended to convey:
She set a pitcher of fresh, thick cream in the middle of the table.
Other meanings of set include, but are by no means limited to, the following: to get in position to run a race; to make a trap ready to catch prey; to fix a hook in a fish’s mouth; to put on film; to put in order for use; to wave, curl, or otherwise arrange hair; to defeat an opponent in bridge; to incite to attack or antagonism (set brother against brother); to have a specified direction in motion; to dance face to face with another in a square dance; to apply oneself to some activity; to cause to become firm or solid (as in milk to cheese); to adjust in conformity with some standard, as in a clock, and on and on…
Versatile little word, set.
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