In an e-learning course, I've stumbled upon a sentence that makes me think. In order to understand the sentence, you may require the following information.

To highlight a folder its status can be changed to active via an operation, which is called set active. Only one folder can be active at a time. If the function is called on another folder this new folder is active, and the former is no longer active. There is no inactive. Think of being active as being highlighted.

The course then said:

In order to achieve [...] please set active the folder.

Whereas I would have gone with:

Please set the folder active.

Can you elaborate on the grammatical rules determining which version is right and why it is right, also why the other one is wrong, if somehow there are more rules to it.

I'm not interested in alternative phrasings (e.g. set the status to active, call the set active operation, etc.). I want to know the rules involved in the inflection of the term set active, or a generalization on combinations of terms consisting of a verb and an adjective (if possible, that is).

  • I have to admit that my version has a German touch to it. Also, feel free to adjust the title of the question and add more appropriate tags to it. I put in effort, but I still don't think that this was a valid linguistic classification.
    – mike
    Jul 20, 2016 at 10:06
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    I would say "... set the folder to active" or "...set the folder status to active". Jul 20, 2016 at 10:14
  • @MaxWilliams Makes sense, but that approach loosens up the tie to the operation name. I think the course creaters wanted to establish the term set active. The question is what are the rules for inflection when you consider this verb + adjective combination?
    – mike
    Jul 20, 2016 at 10:19
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    I can't help you there I'm afraid. If I was you I'd make your question more explicitly state what you want. Jul 20, 2016 at 10:37
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    'Set active' is being treated as a multi-word verb subclass optionally separable. Compare 'turn on' in 'He turned the light on' / 'He turned on the light'. Though others on the internet have adopted this as being acceptable, it does not appear in any dictionary that I'm aware of, and is a very rare usage. I'd consider it as 'not (at this moment) standard'. Jul 20, 2016 at 10:54

1 Answer 1


As I understand it:
- the status is called active (or inactive?)
- the function is called set active

The basic problem is that the two status & function names are not compatible.

What is the opposite function called?:
- is it a different function called set inactive; or
- is it the same set active function being called in reverse?
If different, that's fine; but if it's the same function then the terminology is nonsense.
Presented differently:
- if the status values are active / inactive, then the function should be called set status;
- if the function is called set active, then the status values should be called on / off.

But, to answer your direct questions:
- "please set active the folder" is ungrammatical;
- "Please set the folder active" might be acceptable, but sounds awkward.
- I would have used "Please set the folder to active", but that doesn't use the function name.

An internet search shows various function names such as SetActive. It also shows many uses of the phrase "set active" - but usually followed by a noun, e.g. "set active partition".

I would suggest that "set active" is not normally used for a binary choice (on/off or active/inactive), but where there may be multiple choices; for example: which one of several partitions should be set as the active partition?

In conclusion, I would suggest that "set active" is not a standard phrase or standard verb-adjective combination in (non-technical) English. Hence the two words would be treated separately - one as a verb, and the other as an unrelated adjective.

There are therefore no special 'grammatical rules' relating to this word combination. Typically, in standard non-technical English, one might use expressions such as:
- set [noun X] as / to active
- activate [noun X]
- set the status of [noun X] to active
- set Partition F as the active partition.

I realise that this does not directly answer your question about "the rules involved in the inflection of the term set active", but that's because it is not grammatically a standard idiomatic expression.

  • Thx for your answer. I think I'll have to further elaborate on the operation to narrow down the possible assumptions on its context.
    – mike
    Jul 20, 2016 at 13:53

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