Tim Bowen sets out to explore the many varied collocates of this verb.

Set is often cited as the English word with the most different meanings. Indeed, the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners gives no fewer than 15 separate uses for the verb set (not to mention all the various phrasal verbs like set up, set out etc.), 11 for the noun and a further seven for the adjective.

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of collocations with the verb set. You can set concrete things like alarm clocks, watches, timers and thermostats, for example. You can set a date or a time and you can also set a price or a rate for something (as in 'The Central Bank is responsible for setting interest rates'). Set is also used with words referring to rules or standards such as conditions, guidelines, limits and criteria (as in 'Opposition parties have set conditions for peace negotiations to begin') and you can also set an example or set a precedent (as in 'Her behaviour sets a very bad example' or 'This ruling will set a legal precedent'). Set can be used with certain nouns to establish the way in which something is done, e.g. set a tone, a pattern, a fashion or a trend ('Her opening speech set the tone for the whole conference').

In terms of the future, you can set yourself (or someone else) a goal, a challenge, an objective or a task. From the unfortunate student’s point of view, teachers can set homework, set essays and, worst of all, set exams.