set (v.)

Old English settan (transitive) "cause to sit, put in some place, fix firmly; build, found; appoint, assign," from Proto-Germanic *(bi)satejanan "to cause to sit, set" (source also of Old Norse setja, Swedish sätta, Old Saxon settian, Old Frisian setta, Dutch zetten, German setzen, Gothic satjan), causative form of PIE *sod-, a variant of root *sed- (1) "to sit." Also see set (n.2).

The intransitive sense from c. 1200, "be seated." The word was used in many disparate senses by Middle English; sense of "make or cause to do, act, or be; start" and that of "mount a gemstone" attested by mid-13c. Confused with sit since early 14c. Of the sun, moon, etc., "to go down," recorded from c. 1300, perhaps from similar use of the cognates in Scandinavian languages. To set (something) on "incite to attack" (c. 1300) originally was in reference to hounds and game.

set (adj.)

"fixed," c. 1200, sett, past participle of setten "to set" (see set (v.)). Meaning "ready, prepared" first recorded 1844.

set (n.1)

"collection of things," mid-15c., from Old French sette "sequence," variant of secte "religious community," from Medieval Latin secta "retinue," from Latin secta "a following" (see sect). "[I]n subsequent developments of meaning influenced by SET v.1 and apprehended as equivalent to 'number set together'" [OED]. The noun set was in Middle English, but only in the sense of "religious sect" (late 14c.), which likely is the direct source of some modern meanings, such as "group of persons with shared status, habits, etc." (1680s).

Meaning "complete collection of pieces" is from 1680s. Meaning "group of pieces musicians perform at a club during 45 minutes" (more or less) is from c. 1925, though it is found in a similar sense in 1580s. Set piece is from 1846 as "grouping of people in a work of visual art;" from 1932 in reference to literary works.


Egyptian god, from Greek Seth, from Egyptian Setesh.

set (n.2)

"act of setting; condition of being set" (of a heavenly body), mid-14c., from set (v.) or its identical past participle. Many disparate senses collect under this word because of the far-flung meanings assigned to the verb:

"Action of hardening," 1837; also "manner or position in which something is set" (1530s), hence "general movement, direction, tendency" (1560s); "build, form" (1610s), hence "bearing, carriage" (1855); "action of fixing the hair in a particular style" (1933).

"Something that has been set" (1510s), hence the use in tennis (1570s) and the theatrical meaning "scenery for an individual scene in a play, etc.," recorded from 1859. Other meanings OED groups under "miscellaneous technical senses" include "piece of electrical apparatus" (1891, first in telegraphy); "burrow of a badger" (1898). Old English had set "seat," in plural "camp; stable," but OED finds it "doubtful whether this survived beyond OE." Compare set (n.1).

Set (n.1) and set (n.2) are not always distinguished in dictionaries; OED has them as two entries, Century Dictionary as one. The difference of opinion seems to be whether the set meaning "group, grouping" (here (n.2)) is a borrowing of the unrelated French word that sounds like the native English one, or a borrowing of the sense only, which was absorbed into the English word.

Definitions of set
set (v.)
put into a certain place or abstract location;
Synonyms: put / place / pose / position / lay
set (v.)
fix conclusively or authoritatively;
set the rules
Synonyms: determine
set (v.)
decide upon or fix definitely;
Synonyms: specify / determine / define / fix / limit
set (v.)
establish as the highest level or best performance;
set a record
Synonyms: mark
set (v.)
put into a certain state; cause to be in a certain state;
set the house afire
set (v.)
fix in a border;
The goldsmith set the diamond
set (v.)
make ready or suitable or equip in advance for a particular purpose or for some use, event, etc;
Synonyms: fix / prepare / set up / ready / gear up
set (v.)
set to a certain position or cause to operate correctly;
set clocks or instruments
set (v.)
The film is set in Africa
Synonyms: localize / localise / place
set (v.)
disappear beyond the horizon;
the sun sets early these days
Synonyms: go down / go under
set (v.)
adapt for performance in a different way;
set this poem to music
Synonyms: arrange
set (v.)
put or set (seeds, seedlings, or plants) into the ground;
Synonyms: plant
set (v.)
apply or start;
set fire to a building
set (v.)
become gelatinous;
Synonyms: jell / congeal
set (v.)
set in type;
set these words in italics
Synonyms: typeset
set (v.)
put into a position that will restore a normal state;
set a broken bone
set (v.)
insert (a nail or screw below the surface, as into a countersink);
Synonyms: countersink
set (v.)
give a fine, sharp edge to a knife or razor;
set (v.)
urge to attack someone;
Synonyms: sic
set (v.)
Synonyms: place / put
set (v.)
equip with sails or masts;
Synonyms: rig / set up
set (v.)
get ready for a particular purpose or event;
set up an experiment
set the table
Synonyms: set up / lay out
set (v.)
alter or regulate so as to achieve accuracy or conform to a standard;
Synonyms: adjust / correct
set (v.)
bear fruit;
Synonyms: fructify
set (v.)
arrange attractively;
Synonyms: dress / arrange / do / coif / coiffe / coiffure
set (n.)
a group of things of the same kind that belong together and are so used;
a set of books
a set of golf clubs
a set of teeth
set (n.)
(mathematics) an abstract collection of numbers or symbols;
the set of prime numbers is infinite
set (n.)
several exercises intended to be done in series;
he did four sets of the incline bench press
Synonyms: exercise set
set (n.)
representation consisting of the scenery and other properties used to identify the location of a dramatic production;
the sets were meticulously authentic
Synonyms: stage set
set (n.)
an unofficial association of people or groups;
the smart set goes there
Synonyms: circle / band / lot
set (n.)
a relatively permanent inclination to react in a particular way;
the set of his mind was obvious
Synonyms: bent
set (n.)
the act of putting something in position;
he gave a final set to his hat
set (n.)
a unit of play in tennis or squash;
they played two sets of tennis after dinner
set (n.)
the process of becoming hard or solid by cooling or drying or crystallization;
he tested the set of the glue
Synonyms: hardening / solidifying / solidification / curing
set (n.)
the descent of a heavenly body below the horizon;
before the set of sun
set (n.)
(psychology) being temporarily ready to respond in a particular way;
the subjects' set led them to solve problems the familiar way and to overlook the simpler solution
his instructions deliberately gave them the wrong set
Synonyms: readiness
set (n.)
any electronic equipment that receives or transmits radio or tv signals;
the early sets ran on storage batteries
set (adj.)
being below the horizon;
the moon is set
set (adj.)
(usually followed by `to' or `for') on the point of or strongly disposed;
we are set to go at any time
Synonyms: fit / primed
set (adj.)
fixed and unmoving; "his bearded face already has a set hollow look"- Connor Cruise O'Brien;
with eyes set in a fixed glassy stare
Synonyms: fixed / rigid
set (adj.)
situated in a particular spot or position;
a house set on a hilltop
Synonyms: located / placed / situated
set (adj.)
set down according to a plan;
a carefully laid table with places set for four people
Synonyms: laid
set (adj.)
determined or decided upon as by an authority;
the time set for the launching
Synonyms: determined / dictated
set (adj.)
converted to solid form (as concrete);
Synonyms: hardened
Set (n.)
evil Egyptian god with the head of a beast that has high square ears and a long snout; brother and murderer of Osiris;
Synonyms: Seth