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What is the core meaning of the verb "set" in Modern English? I wrote "to put (something or someone) in a particular place" in my assignment, but the teacher said it was wrong.

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There's more than a particular place involved.
The verb set is the (transitive) causative form of the verb sit.
I.e, set X means 'cause X to be in a sitting position in some location':

  • The statue used to sit on the mantelpiece. ~ He set the statue on the table.
  • Bill sat down in the corner ~ Bill set himself down in the corner.

A similar situation obtains for the verb pairs lie ~ lay and rise ~ raise.
All of these refer to characteristic human bodily motions,
metaphorically extended to other phenomena.

The difference between (say) setting it there, laying it there, and standing it there
depends more on the shape and disposition of what it is than anything else;
all of them mean 'put' or 'place'.

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The 'core use' I would suggest would be to fix something firmly. We 'set' the table for dinner. Concrete 'sets' as it dries.

I take note of the answer which notes that the noun 'set' has about ten uses, and that is significant.

In Norfolk they also use 'set' when they mean 'sit'. 'Set-you down' means 'Do please sit down'.

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As a German I would say the basic meaning corresponds to German setzen, as in "to set one brick upon another". But in English "to set" is used freely and develops a lot of analogous meanings. Collins has 34 numbers for the verb to set. Similar verbs are to place and to put. A lot of uses are idiomatic and there are a lot of compound verbs and collocations. The noun set has about ten uses. So the word set is quite a study.

I would not say that "to put sth some where is wrong", but to set has a lot of transitive uses without where-indication too, as in to set the table. Actually that means to put all necessary things as plates and cutlery on the table for dinner, so actually this also means to put sth somewhere, but it is an elliptic use.

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