Sit Versus Sat

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Using “sit” and “sat” incorrectly is a common grammatical error. When you choose the wrong verb, you risk sounding uneducated or appear lacking in your grammar lessons. To know which to use, it is helpful to consider the distinction in definitions, the type of verb each word is and the different forms of the word.


Keep in mind that “set” is something you do to an object, and “sit” is something you, another person, a thing or an animal can do. The definition of “set” is “to place, put, arrange or adjust something.” On the other hand, “sit” means “to rest; seated or in a resting position.” Consider the below examples:

Example 1: She was ready to sit in her new living room chair to test its comfort. (“Sit” is correct because it means that she is seated or in a resting position once in the chair.)

Example 2: She set the newspaper on the table to read later in the day. (“Set” is correct because it means to put or place something.)

Transitive versus intransitive

Learning which verb is correct also depends on the context in which it is used. A transitive verb must have an object. In other words, there is a person or thing that receives the action of the verb. An intransitive verb on the other hand, is one that has a subject that does the action of the verb, but it does not have an object. “Set” is a transitive verb because it has an object, or the something that is placed, put, arranged or adjusted. “Sit” is an intransitive verb because it has a subject, or the person, animal or thing that is resting, seated or in a resting position. Consider the following examples:

Example 3: The dishes were set out for the family’s evening meal. (The object of “set” are the dishes because they are placed or arranged, making “set” transitive.)

Example 4: The young boy sat down for the rest of the movie. (The subject of “sat” is the young boy, making “sat” intransitive.)

Forms of the verbs

It can also prove helpful to consider the different forms of the verb. “Sit” is an irregular verb, so it uses different forms of the word for the past and past participle form. The same form of the word applies for “set” when it is in any form. Consider the following forms:

  • Sit – sit (present); sat (past); has, have or had sat (past participle)
  • Set – set (present); set (past); has, have or had set (past participle)

Consider the additional examples that follow:

Example 5: The dog has sat very still through the entire visit to the veterinarian.

Example 6: The soda sat outside in the cold long enough to freeze.

Example 7: Rick sets his alarm clock before crawling into bed.

Example 8: The professor had set the exam booklets out for the students to grab on their way to sitting in their seats.