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Is "I am sat" bad English? I believe it is incorrect and instead either the present continuous

I am sitting

or the predicate adjective

I am seated

should be used.

I hear this quite often, however, and ultimately usage overrules formality. Does anybody know where this originated or how to describe it grammatically?

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1  
It's northern Englandish. I get told off for using it by my southern wife... –  Sam Holder Mar 30 '11 at 15:17
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Strangely enough, even as an American, it sounds normal to me. I quite frequently say be sat. To me it's just like be gone, expressing a state rather than an action. –  Jon Purdy Mar 30 '11 at 15:19
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@mfg: It's not exactly the same. The waiter seated me, whereupon I found myself sat in the back of the smoky Italian restaurant with nothing to do is fine. The waiter sat me is just wrong, and if the waiter sat me down then I'd expect him to give me a stern talking-to for some reason. Probably for failing to smoke in what is obviously a smoking-mandatory establishment, I dunno. –  Jon Purdy Mar 30 '11 at 17:57
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"The waiter sat me" is an idiomatic phrase (a participle participating previously in bad grammar), typically followed with something like "...down to cuss at me about smoking in the cafeteria of the Oncology wing." –  mfg Mar 30 '11 at 18:23
1  
@mfg: Alright, yeah, agreed. I just wanted to clarify. I think the phrase/al verb is really to sit (sb) down, though. It sounds harsh, if not outright wrong, without down or similar. –  Jon Purdy Mar 30 '11 at 18:24

7 Answers 7

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Forms like "I am sat here" and "they were stood there" are common in certain dialects of English (such as Yorkshire, where I live), but are not regarded as standard English, which prefers "I am sitting here" and "they were standing there".

They are examples of stative verbs, which in many languages have a different grammar from other verbs, but exactly how the form arises I don't know. [Edit: also, they don't pattern with the class of verbs usually called "stative" in English, in that they do have continuous forms: "I am sitting" etc.]

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4  
Interesting. I don't think it's at all common in America. The Google hits I can identify geographically all seem to be UK. It's standard enough (or hip enough) for Hive magazine, apparently. –  Jason Orendorff Mar 30 '11 at 12:03
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I think you are correct in point one, however, after reading your answer I have been learning about stative verbs and I do not agree that sit is one because if this were the case, then the form I am sitting would be invalid. An example of a stative verb is know, where the form I am knowing is invalid. esl.about.com/od/grammarstructures/a/g_stative.htm –  z7sg Ѫ Mar 30 '11 at 13:32
    
You're right that they don't pattern with the class of verbs called "stative" in English; but semantically they certainly are stative, and in some languages have particular grammar because of that. But it was probably unhelpful for me to call them "stative" here. I was trying to capture a property of these words and no others that I can think of in (some dialects of) English. –  Colin Fine Mar 31 '11 at 10:26
    
@z7sg - Are you sure "I am knowing" is always invalid? An old girlfriend used to call me a "knowing f***-it-all", and I thought she had a valid point. –  MT_Head Jun 5 '11 at 1:03
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@MT_Head Yes, she probably did. –  z7sg Ѫ Jun 5 '11 at 1:34

Some notes on all this from the OED...

The transitive verb to seat meaning “to cause to sit down” is first cited in 1623’s Henry VIII. Seated meaning “sitting down” is an adjective derived from the transitive verb to seat, and whose earliest citation in English is from Scott in 1817.

The simple past and the past participle of the much older verb to sit are both simply sat, and nothing more. Its reflexive and transitive senses, respectively meaning “to seat oneself” and “to cause someone to be seated”, date from time immemorial. Some relevant citations for the “I am sat” sort of sense include:

  • The Middle English work Cursor Mundi has “þe folk ware satte” [“the folk were sat”].
  • A 1711 citation that includes “The Court was sat”.
  • An 1803 citation of “Where‥Hermon and his friend were sate.”

It is interesting to note that the older sate spelling includes several 19th citations, including Thackeray’s Vanity Fair of 1848.

I can in summary find no hint of condemnation in the OED for the use “I am sat”. However, these entries have no been updated since the Second Edition of 1989, and it is possible that more recent hypothetical opprobrium for such things has not yet found its way into being reflected there.

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[1] i. ?I am sat
ii. I am sitting
iii. I am seated

(? denotes questionable grammaticality)

In [1ii], the gerund-participle sitting is just a simple verb -- indicating that the subject is sitting.

In [1iii] we have the past participle used in what The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls the ascriptive use of be (a kind of copular clause).

[1i] sounds wrong. Is it wrong? No. It's just not standard usage.

In the ascriptive use, PC [predicative complement] denotes a property and characteristically has the form of AdjP or … NP.

That is, an ascriptive copular clause takes the form NP + be + AdjP (or + NP, but we definitely don’t have an NP here). A verb can be inflected to be used as an adjective by using the gerund-participle form or the past participle form. Sat is the past participle of sit and thus, unless I’m missing something, [1i] must be grammatical.

This, of course, does not apply when the preterite and past participle are not syncretised. Consider the following:

[2] *I am want [preterite]
ii. I am wanting [gerund-participle]
iii. I am wanted [past participle]

[2i] is ungrammatical, while [2ii] and [2iii] are fine.

In summary, I am sat is an example of the ascriptive use of be.

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3  
I'm pretty sure that sat is the past participle of sit. If it isn't, then I don't know what is. –  z7sg Ѫ Mar 30 '11 at 12:58
    
What makes you say it's the past participle of sit? It is the simple past form of sit. I'm sure we can agree that "took" is the simple past form of "take", while "taken" is the past participle. Another use of the past participle is for the perfect: "I have taken him a long letter" and "I have seated myself down" while "I have took myself down" doesn't work, nor does "I have sat myself down". –  J D OConal Mar 30 '11 at 13:07
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Although, after running a quick Google search, it looks as though I may be wrong. Let me do some more research. :) Yes. I am wrong (OED says so!). Now that I have had my embarrassing moment and have learnt such a simple verb as "sit", I can update my answer. –  J D OConal Mar 30 '11 at 13:11
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Hehe we all have these moments from time to time. :) –  z7sg Ѫ Mar 30 '11 at 13:14
    
Haha. True. Hopefully I've given a reason that it is grammatical now though (far from what I thought I was showing). –  J D OConal Mar 30 '11 at 13:18

I would accept all of

  • The cat sits on the mat
  • The cat is sitting on the mat
  • The cat sat on the mat
  • The cat has sat on the mat
  • The cat was sitting on the mat

but also the transitive or passive forms of seat and sit

  • She seats the cat on the mat
  • She sits the cat on the mat
  • She seated the cat on the mat
  • She sat the cat on the mat
  • She has seated the cat on the mat
  • She has sat the cat on the mat
  • The cat was seated on the mat by her
  • The cat was sat on the mat by her
  • The cat has been seated on the mat
  • The cat has been sat on the mat
  • The cat was seated on the mat
  • The cat is seated on the mat

That only leaves

  • The cat was sat on the mat
  • The cat is sat on the mat

which I find difficult to reject, though here sat has a passive tone to me.

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"She sat the cat on the mat." is a transcription error, originally "She set the cat on the mat." (Wonder if the rhyming makes the error more common?) –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 3:39
    
@Ben Voigt: Would you regard "She sits the cat on the mat" as a transcription error? This kind of phrase is common enough: for example "she sat him down in the lady's lap" appears Dickens' Sketches by Boz; "she sits him down and administers the necessary aid" in Kerouac's The town and the city –  Henry Jun 5 '11 at 9:30
    
I would say that either She seats him or She sets him down (depending on whether he moves under his power or hers) would be better. The past forms irk me much more, I'd never use has sat transitively, and the passive constructions was sat, or has been sat just don't work IMO. Note that you have was sat in two of your lists. –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 16:29

Colloquially, "I am sat here" or "I am sat there" carries with it a sense that someone has done it to you. As in the construct "She sat me down and told me ...". It's typically used when telling a story or complaining. You wouldn't use it for a circumstance like being at your desk working or at home watching TV under normal conditions. You might use it for being in a doctor's waiting room, or outside the principals office. I suppose if you felt trapped at work (or even at home) and strongly wanted to be somewhere else, you might: "She's in the hospital, and I'm sat here with nothing to do, but no way to get to her and keep her company."

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Well I wouldn't, but the usage that caused me to ask the question was in exactly that circumstance. :) –  z7sg Ѫ Mar 30 '11 at 11:56
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No, it does not carry that sense in those dialects where the phrase is common. –  Colin Fine Mar 30 '11 at 11:57
    
@Colin who are you disagreeing with? –  Kate Gregory Mar 30 '11 at 12:02
    
Yes. This construction is known as the antipassive. –  JSBձոգչ Mar 30 '11 at 12:35
    
But I admit that it does often carry a sense of annoyance. –  Colin Fine Mar 30 '11 at 13:00

It appears that, though extremely awkward, it would be correct, as sat is the past part of sit. Seat is a similar verb that means "to sit down."

Side note: sit may be transitive or intransitive, but seat is always transitive and must take a direct object.

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Can you give an example of transitive "sit"? I think it's used when either "seat" or "set" is meant. –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 3:35
    
Sit yourself down, and I'll bring you some coffee. -from NOAD –  snumpy Jun 5 '11 at 11:22
    
I'd argue that is at least awkward, possibly incorrect. Either sit down or seat yourself would be better. But maybe that's just my tendency to exclude extra words that add nothing to the sentence's meaning. –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 16:25
    
I'm afraid you are not arguing with me but with the authors of the New Oxford American Dictionary. Feel free to take it up with them. –  snumpy Jun 5 '11 at 21:18
    
@BenVoigt See the OED’s sit, which contains numerous citations of sit used transitively and reflexively, uses dating from time immemorial up through and including the present day. –  tchrist May 25 '12 at 19:11

All those verbs which do not admit of being combined with the substantive verb, are called intransitive or neuter : such as, sit, stand, lie, sleep, &c. We can say, I am trained, loved, watched, &c. ; but we do not say, I am sat, stood, slept, &c.-The etymologic interpreter; or, An explanatory and pronouncing dictionary of the English language (1824)

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