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This sentence is part of a somewhat formal essay I am writing. I am describing what 'He' has been up to.

It had been ten days since he had set off on an errand at his manager's request and there hadn't been any updates from him until that moment.

Is the expression "set off on an errand" idiomatic? I believe its meaning is clear, but how does it sound to a native's ear?

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    Yep, it's fine. You can "set off on" a journey, a quest, an errand, etc. Incidentally, did you know the Errant in Knight Errant (you know, those noble warriors forever setting off on quests and such) shares an etymology with errand? Has nothing to do with "being in error" (Don Quixote, the erroneous errant, notwithstanding). – Dan Bron Jan 11 '17 at 12:08
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    Saying "He has set off..." is not idiomatic, since "set" is used to refer to an event, and "He has" is implying a state, not an event. "He is off on an errand" would be more idiomatic, when explaining where "He" is. "He set off on an errand" would typically be used in a narrative, to describe an event in that narrative. – Hot Licks Jan 11 '17 at 13:25
  • @HotLicks But there is still no reason you couldn't say, in response to "Where's Jack?", "He has set off on an errand". Equally "He's off on an errand", or "He's away on an errand" would be alright too. – WS2 Jan 11 '17 at 13:42
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    @HotLicks in fact it's a narrative that I am writing. I am describing what 'He' has been up to. The whole thing, if you are interested, is: 'It had been ten days since he had set off on an errand at his manager's request and there hadn't been any updates from him until that moment'. – cldjr Jan 11 '17 at 14:26
  • On a side note, why has my question been downvoted? What's wrong about it? – cldjr Jan 11 '17 at 14:26
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I am not a native speaker. My research suggests that "had/has set off on an errand" is grammatically okay, but it's not idiomatic.

The only examples I found are:

  1. "Wildwood Road" By Christopher Golden

He was still holding her that way when the sound of an engine cut the night. Jillian had set off on an errand ... a short drive to that elegantly antique gas station, so well preserved, an echo from another era.

  1. Bernard Shandon Rodey

The defendant had set off on an errand to deposit his employer’s money at the First National Bank, but had ended up gambling most of it away at “Hope’s corner faro bank” instead.

  1. Shamballa Part 3: The Philosopher's Stone (A fan fiction)

My escort, Sergeant Beregond, has set off on an errand I appointed him. I already gave him instructions to meet me here.

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    I am not sure what the downvotes here mean. Hope somebody can help me learn. – NVZ Jan 11 '17 at 17:27
  • I'm not sure either. +1 for a decent answer. – rhetorician Jan 11 '17 at 17:43
  • +1 from me as well - it was a decent answer indeed, thanks. Interesting examples. I had googled sentences where set off and errand showed up together but found very few usages so I was suspecting this was not so idiomatic, or at least not commonly used. – cldjr Jan 11 '17 at 17:51

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