Accessibility links

Breaking News

How are Set and Settle Different?

Ask a Teacher
Ask a Teacher
Let's Settle a Question: How are Set and Settle Different?
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:59 0:00

This week we answer a question from Shahram in Iran. He writes:


“Hi. I want to know about the meaning of the words ‘settle’ and -set.’ – Shahram, Iran


Dear Shahram,

The two words may look similar, but each has a different meaning. Both can be used either as a noun or as a verb.


We begin with the word "set." The noun form of "set" means a group of similar things that belong together. Take, for example, a tea set, which is a group of cups and dishes used for serving tea. The verb form of "set" has many different meanings: Merriam Webster Learner's Dictionary lists 17 meanings alone for the single verb, and another 30 phrasal verbs with "set." Luckily, you do not need to worry about all of those now.

Generally speaking, the verb "set" means "to put (something) in a place or position." It always has an object, a word that receives the action of the verb. Here are two examples:

Susan always sets her purse under the desk when she comes into the office. The object is "purse."

Larry set his hat on his head as he walked out the door. The object is "hat."

We also can talk about a literary work or a play being "set" in a place, which means the story happens there.

The book Big Little Lies is set in Australia.

Another meaning of "set" is to make something ready for use. As a child, one of my jobs was to "set the table." This meant putting the dishes, cups, and silverware out around the table, with one "set" for each person.

And, one last meaning of "set" for now; you will hear people talk about "setting a clock," that is, to make sure the clock has the correct time.


Now we turn to the word "settle." The noun form of "settle" once meant a long seat or bench, but we no longer use that definition these days. Instead let me give you three meanings of the verb form. The first one is to end a discussion or an argument by reaching an agreement.

I had to settle a fight between two boys in class today.

We also use "settle" to talk about paying money.

After dinner, I settled the restaurant bill for my family.

One more meaning is to move to a place and make it your home.

The young couple settled in a small house in New York.

A related phrasal verb is "settle down," which can mean to get quiet, or to begin living a quiet life by getting married and having a full-time job.

Nasrin was a wild child but she settled down after getting married.

The baby settled down to sleep after drinking his bottle.

I hope these examples help to settle your mind about the differences between the words "set" and "settle."

And that's Ask a Teacher!

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Exercise: Choose "set" or "settle" to complete the sentence.




I gave my sister a tea ___ for her birthday.


We want to ______ in a small town to raise our children.

Let me ________ the bill with the waiter.

I forgot to ___ the clock when the time changed.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is ___ on the Mississippi River.

The children had an exciting day, so it was hard to get them to _____ down tonight.

Words in This Story

phrasal verb – n. a group of words that operates as a verb and is made up of a verb and a preposition, an adverb, or both

purse n. an object used by women for carrying money and small, personal belongings

desk n. a table or similar piece of furniture

clock n. a time piece; an instrument used to keep time

billn. a document that says how much money you owe for something you have bought or used

silverwaren. forks, knives, and spoons that are made of stainless steel, plastic, etc.

couple – n. two people who are married or who have a close or sexual relationship

Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.