Submitted by Brus on February 8, 2012

He was sat

Is the dialect expression “He was sat ...” in place of “He was sitting ...”, which is quite common in the UK, also found in US English? When I first arrived in England I was astonished to hear a teacher tell his class to “stay sat” when they had done whatever it was they were doing. Now it is like an epidemic, heard on the radio and television too, used by people speaking otherwise standard English. US dialect is very rich and diverting, but I wonder if this one features?


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Because it is incorrect: it is dialect, not Standard English. "Sat" is the past tense: "he sat" or past participle: "he was sat (upon) by (someone). The imperfect tense is "he was sitting/seated".
You cannot change "he was laughing" to "he was laughed" either. 'He was laughed at' is another thing altogether. "He was seated" or "he was sitting" are standard English, "he was sat" is dialect. It is ungrammatical.
Goofy's point is that it is fine for teachers to encourage common usage of English even when incorrect. How then are their pupils to know what correct forms are? There are places around the world where language use is a really major thing for schools to concern themselves with. Yesterday there was a report of a school in Belgium where French-speaking children are obliged to speak Flemish at school on pain of punishment as that is the school policy (in a school where 40% are naturally French speakers, 60% Flemish). The riots in South Africa in 1976 which triggered the steps to the dismantling of apartheid were to do with inflicting Afrikaans-medium lessons on kids who wanted to do it in English or native African languages. That was another dimension to the argument, but an illustration of how important it is.

Sure, we have dialect forms of English used widely throughout the UK. Are they all to be embraced as "official" languages? The BBC used to follow a policy of a standard accent and standard English, but now promotes regional accents. But they do not yet go as far as inviting their correspondents to use regional dialects. Richly entertaining though they are, they are not conducive to mutual understanding.

An example: In Dundee spoken English is commonly performed without the use of any consonants whatever, just vowels, apostrophes and glottal stops. I doubt if the teachers there encourage their pupils to work in this medium, as if they were to do so their pupils' employment prospects beyond the city would be very limited. Even more importantly, the teachers would not be educating their pupils properly.

That is why British English teachers should not use dialect forms of English such as "stay sat" in a British English classroom. They shouldn't say "Yup" or "Yah" or "Nope" or "Hiya" either. These terms would not go down well in the kids' first job or academic interviews now, would they, to be practical? If the teachers know better they should show their pupils the way, and if they don't know better they shouldn't be teachers.

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Euro English? I do not think there is such a thing. "He was sitting" imperfect active. "Stay sitting" imperative 'stay' + adjective "sitting" or "seated". "Sat" is either active perfect "the cat sat on the mat" or passive past participle: "He was sat upon by his boss" (figuratively, one hopes). To say "I was sat in the corner" begs the question "by whom"? - someone made me sit in the corner. But it is often used in local English dialect when it means "I was sitting". Walt ford says not in the US. Do any other nations encounter this departure from standard English? To this 'foreigner' living in England it grates on the ear.

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I'll back Brus up. If the teach is teaching ENGLISH, then the teacher should set the example and use proper English with standard pronunciation (with leeway for accents). I'd hate to walk into a US school and hear an English teacher speaking in ebonics to students ... kind of defeats the purpose!

If the students aren't hearing correct English in school ... do you thing they're hearing it at home? Or listening to hip-hop or rap? Maybe the gym teacher can get away with using ebonics but not the English teach or literature teacher!

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One of a teacher's most important responsibilities is to establish a rapport with her students--you can't do that by talking like a priggish Professor Higgins for an hour and a half. English studies--in particular, composition and academic argumentation--has less to do with proper grammar than it does with clear reasoning in language. You can use a Dundee dialect to defend a claim about Shakespeare's chauvinism as easily as with a "proper" BBC dialect.

What you're neglecting to recognize here is the fact that one's *audience* is a crucial part of the rhetoric of any given situation. For example, if, whilst teaching my intro Rhet/Comp classes, I actually used the word "whilst" in the classroom, regardless of whether or not I used it correctly, I would be guilty of neglecting my audience's values and thereby lose some of my students' respect. And if I lose their respect, I lose the ability to teach them important stuffs--stuffs like "knowing your audience is crucial to effective argumentation, in the academy and everywhere else."

It might grate on your nerves, Brus, but then you might not be a member of the audience this teacher is trying to reach. It may be that he's knowingly breaking the rules of normative, "proper" grammar in the classroom because he's trying to establish a linguistic connection with his audience in order to teach them more important things about writing than verb tenses.

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Yes Goofy, I know. Or as I call it, dialect, as opposed to Standard English. That is what I am grumbling about. It is fine when it is acknowledged that the speaker is talking in dialect, but in my view not good at all when used by teachers (who else in the first place would tell people to "stay sat"?!). Teachers are meant to speak Standard English to show their pupils the way, not so? I was wondering if US politicians and public figures also use this ugly expression. Frasier and Niles don't, and they know!

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Right enough, Derek, I agree wholly with what you say. I reckon that all three arguments above can be summed up by: the job of the teacher (in one part only, among many, many others) is to demonstrate the correct way to express things in English (or indeed any language medium being used). Since writing my last blurb I have heard "you was rubbish on the radio, innit?!" (not addressed to me, of course!). I don't think a student or pupil would bond better with, or follow the plot of, a teacher who spoke in such idiom. "Stay seated" said by an exam invigilator is not unintelligible to a pupil who at home might be told to "stay sat". And it shows him (or her) the way to do it.
Thanks, AnWulf - like the term ebonics. I am going off to look it up.

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I was educated in the north of England (many years ago), where there has always been a tendency to say "I was sat on the ....". Teachers placed a great deal of emphasis on the fact that it was NOT correct (same the common northern usage was "borrow/take/etc. off" instead of "from"). Not having lived in England for many years, I am now amazed at how this expression has crept into common use by educated English speakers and in written English. "Sat" is either the active form of the simple past tense ("he sat on the chair", i.e. describing the action of becoming seated) or the past participle ("the child was sat on the chair by her father", i.e. describing the action of one person seating another person -sounds a bit forced but would be grammatically correct-). I know all kinds of things can become common usage and, as I say, I believe "sat" instead of "sitting" has always been used in the north of England, but I really can't find a grammatical leg for it to stand on. I am a translator and I would certainly never use the "I was sat on the chair" form in written English if what I meant was "I was sitting on the chair".

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Hamish, I would like to congratulate you on the impeccable reasoning you offer for your two statements, but I cannot. Not because it is peccable, but because it is imperceptible. You have supplied none.

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If it is a common part of British English, then I don't see why British English teachers shouldn't use it in a British English classroom.

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Good points, Goofy. I agree with much of what you say. Your second point: that we learn our language from our peers - yes, and we keep it up as we move about the world, picking up local accents and idiom as we go, using them when in the company of those who use them, referring to them fondly with others who have been in the same places, amusing each other by 'doing' accents and idioms for entertainment, and language too. When in Rome do as the Romans do. When in Australia you have to speak Oz to be understood, I gather, and in South Africa or Scotland there are brilliant ways to express yourself not used elsewhere. So I agree with you wholeheartedly on that second point of yours, with the caveat that teachers show the way to speak and write Standard English, as this needs to be known too for purely practical reasons: getting employed if nothing else.

There is no need to use it out of context, of course: just as we need not confine ourselves to knowing only one language, we need not confine ourselves to one version of English. You are quite wrong on your first point in that I absolutely do not think we should adhere at all times to just one, standard form. I enjoy regional accents and idioms and derive much pleasure in hearing a wide range of these and national variations departing from standard English. And using them. I can do South African, Glaswegian, Edinburgh, Cornwall, Wales, Australia, India, ...
Did you know there are at least a dozen identifiable forms of Scots English, and a distinct Scots language with hundreds of its own terms? I think I know which is which when I hear a bit spoken. It is like enjoying listening to music.

It is also great fun using the right idiom in the right place. As a teacher teaching language I used Standard English as that was part of that game. On the sports field it was once suggested to me by an American friend that I should exhort my team to "kick ass" in their next match, so I did and he was pleased to hear that they had performed better than ever as a result. Quite hard to do this literally when playing cricket, of course. That is just one example out of thousands over the years. One of the pleasures of looking into this site is to learn so many amusing things about American use of English - even more entertaining than South African. Please do not think I sneer at it - it is great!

So that jibe about Prof Higgins strikes home. He's the one who could tell not only which town you are from, but which street you live in too, just by listening to a sentence or two. Ideal for a languages teacher. I wish! I can do South African cities too, but not streets. Suburbs maybe.

People around the world quickly learn a few phrases and words when they want to and need to: poor street vendors in Bangkok and Cambodia speak English when it means a sale, and it is just a matter of imitation, after all. It has always been a mystery why it was that JFK found it so hard to learn how to say "Ich bin ein Berliner" and pronounce it intelligibly. We all know how well it went down when after six weeks of rehearsal he finally got his chance to say it to a started crowd of German citizens in Berlin. It wasn't very good, was it?

So when it is correct to say "stay seated" to people who might otherwise think "stay sat" will do, and your role is a formal one at that moment, such as an exam invigilator, why not just get it right and show them how it is done? You can say it in a special accent if you want to amuse them or engage their attention. They are not stupid, and will get it. You can express your delight in demotic terms when you give them back their papers with great marks, or whatever they have done, but they may well think less of you for doing so.

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I recently attending the 500th anniversary dinner of my school, based in the English Midlands, which was attended by hundreds of well-educated old boys, including the Governor of the Bank of England, who spoke eloquently and well. He was followed in the speeches by the current headmaster (in what would surely be the most high-profile speech of his life, doubtless hoping all the successful alumni present would dig deep into their pockets to help the school) and on about four occasions he referred to this person or that person as "sat at the back". Each time he said it I winced internally, and all I could think was how much standards at the school must have dropped. It may be an idiom, but soem peopel need to learn the correct moment to use it. This was not one of them!

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Hold on... I didn't say "encourage". I simply hold the apparently weird belief that there's nothing wrong with teachers talking to their students in the local idiom. Correctness is not absolute after all. It depends on region and register. Such a teacher could still say "when you're writing formal English, don't use 'was sat'".

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Try watching or preferably listening to the BBC. They do it. The newsreaders get muddled with singular/plural, and saying "that" when they mean "who/whom/which" but otherwise are fairly good at it. In the UK it is known as the Queen's English, which means Standard English. Learned academics do it.
Today I heard on the radio a woman saying "I've gotta be honest, you was sat there, doing nuffink, know what I mean?" I cannot imagine HM saying this to the PM.

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It's a common British regionalism.

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@Goofy ... How much do students learn from teachers? Quite a lot! Think about it. A student spend 6-8 hours a day in school ... And if the school is any good, the student will spend an hour or two ... or more ... at home doing homework. Those teachers can have a very profound effect on their grammar.

Truly ... Do you think it's fine for an English teacher to say "you is" to a student? I can tell you that if I heard an English teach speaking ebonics to her class, I'd be in the principal's office in a heartbeat giving him hell for the low quality of teachers he had working for him.

Yo! Speak proper cracker ass english sho 'nuff!

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Your speech-making headmaster was, I think, trying to curry favour with you by speaking down to you, using the dialectical 'the man sat on the mat' for 'the man sitting/seated at the back'. Well, it doesn't work, does it? You winced, you say.
Like the Scottish agricultural workers whose boss the laird talks posh English at home and among his peers, but adopts the argot of the open fields in addressing them in what he hopes is an approximation to the Scots language, also to curry favour, and they wince too. They grumble about it in the pub afterwards, and speak ill of the man. I know: I have heard them do so.

Like the pupils in a class where the teacher talks deliberately in demotic English in order to 'relate' to them. They in fact despise him for it, for they are not stupid and they realise that he must think they are, and that he is patronising them.

Politicians of a certain sort in England in public, on TV and in Parliament often deliberately talk down to people by their choice of language, even going so far as to adopt funny accents for the day, terrified that their audience might otherwise realise they (the politicians) are educated people and hate them for it. It is all inverted snobbery, as the British are peculiarly class-conscious, and very worried and confused about it, for they think class-consciousness is A Bad Thing.

Entertaining, though. The journalists make fun of them for it, for in Britain there is a healthy lack of undue respect for these folk.

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@Brus - I think you mean run and flown, both past participles. And we do indeed have something vaguely similar with run. 'She's run off her feet today', 'He's a bit run down at the moment' - Nobody ran her off her feet. nobody ran him down, to paraphrase your argument above.There's no agent at work here. And as I've said before we have constructions like 'OK, are we all done?' and 'I'm all done in.'

The passive analogy is inviting but it has some problems. If we look at some other stationary verbs: 'The patio had been perfectly positioned to catch the sun' is obviously passive. But what about 'The house was positioned between two large oak trees'. 'The TV is placed where everybody can get a good view.' I'm not so sure here; I would tend to argue that positioned and placed are adjectives here. And what about situated, it's nearly always an adjective.

As for this website, I would have hoped it was for discussing the fascinating subject of the English language. And to repeat again, much of what is said to be "correct" applies mainly to formal English, not necessarily to conversational English. For example you quite correctly use the expression 'by whom'. But it's not one I'd ever use, but that's my choice, not my ignorance; for many of us it sounds stilted and old fashioned, and I don't think you are being any more correct than I would be saying 'who by'. Just as I don't think somebody who says 'It is I' is being any more correct than somebody else who says 'It's me'. In fact the formally "correct" version is usually rather inappropriate.

On the other hand you use the expression 'begs the question' the same way I would. But there are others who would say we were both using it incorrectly.

I do thinks there's so much more to the study of English than concentrating on the rules of the formal language. And if you don't like certain expression, don't use them. But why force this straitjacket on others, who in their way, are enriching our language.

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Excellent news, Chloe. As I said before, I think, the first time I heard this expression, thirty years ago or so, it was teachers saying it to their pupils whose own parents would not use this quaint form. I thought perhaps they told their pupils to "stay sat" because they had indeed been made to sit, and they were trying to make a subtly point. As you say it is now heard everywhere, creeping even into the speech of politicians anxious to seem 'of the people' and who therefore prefer demotic to correct forms. I am appalled to hear it used by BBC reporters and journalists who, I gather, have been told to talk this way - there was an article by Joan Bakewell in the paper the other day in which she regretted the grammar and elocution lessons she had received in her youth, as she is now given fewer commissions because she sounds "too posh"!

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Complaints about "improper" English seem to ignore register. What is correct in an informal conversation might not be correct in a formal written essay, and vice versa. AnWulf and Brus seem to be saying that there is one correct Engilsh to be used in all contexts, at all times. Surely it would be more helpful to students to teach them about register, and how to use the language appropriate for the register.

How much language do students acquire from teachers anyway? I'd say not much. Students acquire language at a very young age from their peers. They don't grow up speaking the same language as their parents or teachers. This can be easily shown: children of non-native English speaking parents speak with a native accent, they don't speak with the same accent as their parents. And children who are taught by a non-native English speaking teacher do not automatically acquire a non-native accent.

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If you ever find someone who speaks so-called "Standard English", do let us all know.

I've never met such a person.

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"Try watching or preferably listening to the BBC. They do it."

No they don't.

Or are you suggesting American, Canadian Australian and even Indian news readers don't use "Standard English"?

If not, it's hardly very "standard" then, is it?

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If you reckon the BBC doesn't use Standard English then you must acknowledge that there is a Standard English. I cannot vouch for US, Canadian, Australian newsreaders, but in India I have seen and heard the news and have no complaints! In South Africa the SABC used it, and so did the newspapers in my time there.

I did write in my last blurb that the BBC has its problems with singular/plural and relative pronouns, so it is indeed not perfect. But the BBC is trying to be trendy by promoting regional dialect among its staff - poor Joan Bakewell, 'the thinking man's crumpet', is finding herself sidelined, she tells us, by the BBC because she speaks properly. So, point taken: the BBC is no better than the politicians. Where to find Standard English as a benchmark then?

What about published books then? I have read quite a number in my time and can remember none written in English which did not follow Standard English, except where demotic regional dialect is part of the plot, such as Huckleberry Finn. Any thoughts on that?

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I am an American who has been living in London for 15 years durign which time the misuse of "sat", "stood" a so forth has become pandemic, used by virtually everyone nowadays -- from laypeople to radio and television presenters and even BBC reporters. In my time here it has got much worse, as, at first, it seemed to me to be more a Northern colloquialism. It is decidedly shameful that it has so quickly become the established form.

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Brus, thank you. Peccable. What a wonderful word. I put it right up there with ruth (contrasted to ruthless of course).

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Thank you.

I could perhaps have written " who could attempt to refute the case of someone who makes statements without offering any argument to back them up? ".

Perhaps "the Oracle has spoken!" would have been a suitable reaction to Hamish's offering.

It's all a matter of the mood you are in, really.


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He sat on the ground
He stood on the grass
He flew in the aeroplane
He ran down the road

He sits on the ground
He stands at the corner
He flys in the aeroplane
He runs down the road

He was sitting on the ground
He was standing on the grass
He was flying in the aeroplane
He was running down the road

Above^ are the basics of standard english, as I was taught in school back in the 80s.

He was sat on the ground
He was stood on the grass
He was few in the aeroplane
He was ran down the road

Above^ is the modern take on this modern "non standard" slang grammar (which I whole heartedly disagree with) . . . . .

As I said in my previous post, this non standard form is now pervading the airwaves, and sadly the standard forms of sitting & standing (in particular)
seem to have been consigned to the grammatical dustbin. In generations to come people will look back and discover two words that will no longer
longer be in use in the english language, those words being sitting & standing.

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@Arthur - This use of 'sat' and 'stood' is idiomatic, so reeling off the standard tense system doesn't make a lot of sense. The proof of which is that this idiomatic use is very limited, it only occurs with the stationary verbs 'sat' and 'stood'. Nobody uses it with 'fly' and 'run', which are verbs of movement; that was a total red herring.

You may not like 'he was sat there' or 'she was stood there'. But there's a certain logic to it if we treat them as adjectives. This simply wouldn't work for verbs of movement, it would make no sense.

I do find it rather tiresome and frankly patronising when somebody takes it on themselves to teach us the tense system. I may not always agree with them, but most of the people who comment on this web site are pretty clued up as to basic grammar, so spare us the beginner's class in tenses, please.

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Sat and stood do indeed rank with ran and flown. The implication, grammatically, is passive, which is to say someone else did it to our subject, and the agent who performed the deed is told to us with a phrase introduced with "by". I was stood in the corner begs the question by whom?
So: I was stood in the corner by the teacher. I was sat at my desk by the invigilator. I was run out town by the sheriff. He will be flown secretly out of the country to South America.
It is common, in England, to hear "I was sat" meaning "I was sitting", but that is not to say it is correct. If this site is not about correct English what is it for?

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Brus, however past participles might behave in Latin is irrelevant to English.

MWDEU on "very" with past participles:

MWDEU on participles as adjectives:

The grammarian Quirk has criteria we can use to tell if a participle has adjective status.

attributive use: She gave me an annoyed look.

predicative use with "seem": She seems rather annoyed.

premodification with "very": She’s very annoyed.

comparison: She’s growing more/less annoyed by the minute.

etc… Please look at the links above.

Quirk claimed that modification by “very” is “explicit indication” that a participle has achieved adjective status.

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@goofy - you've nearly convinced me, but both 'situated' and 'done' are listed in my dictionary as adjectives, but you can't say 'very situated' or 'very done', can you? And can't we use participles as adjectives without them having 'achieved adjective status'? We certainly do it with nouns. I was really trying to find a grammatical explanation as I don't go for the passive argument. I'd be interested to know what you think. Is this use in fact analysable? Or should we just put it down to being idiomatic.

@jayles - grow and shrink are both ergative verbs, where the object of the transitive verb can become the subject of an intransitive verb, but there aren't actually that many verbs that work like that -

Both sit and stand can be transitive, which is why some people see this usage as a misuse of the passive, although it's an argument I don't share.

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@Brus - you've changed your tune slightly - now you're saying - 'But you cannot really get away in formal English with saying "I was sat" unless it is clear who sat you there'. No contest. It's not usually used in formal English, but in normal conversational English. And most of us hardly ever use formal English. And I see no need why TV sports commentators or chat show hosts, for example, should be expected to use formal English. If you check Google Books there are quite a few examples there. Not high literature I grant you, but edited published literature. And both Kingsley Amis and Ben Elton have used it in books.

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Reading this thread I am beginnig to wonder does English grammar matter at all any more?
Maybe its my age 'fifty', and maybe modern speak has passed me by in the three decades since I left school, or maybe I am too old school? The previous contributor says "I can't really see what's so wrong with saying 'I was sat' instead of 'I was sitting', he also says "I see no need why TV sports commentators or chat show hosts, for example, should be expected to use formal English" > formal english presumably being "He was sitting".

I am somewhat perplexed and confused by all this to be honest, and I almost feel like joining the "I was sat brigade" but if I did so, it would not only raise eyebrows amongst family and friends, and it would also go against everything I was ever taught, and then what about other 'non standard' English dialects? take parts of London for example where it is quite common to hear "We was sat" instead of "We were sitting", should 'we was' also be an acceptable form of English grammar across the National airwaves? - I say NO.

'He was sitting' is standard English grammar, and 'He was sat' is a non standard form of English, that is unfortunately becoming the norm in formal and non-formal speak in England, and I say "England", because so far, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland seem to be unaffected by 'he was sat/ I was sat'.

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Arthur - you are quite right: if you allow "he was sat" you had might as well also go with "we was sat" which is no worse as it too is in common use. I am wholly in agreement with all the points you have made here, and I am going to change my mind on allowing "he was sat" as passive - I reckon now it is always wrong; the passive is "he was seated (somewhere) by ... (someone)" and "he was sat" is not right, ever. I modify my earlier suggestion that if someone is made to sit somewhere perhaps unwillingly (an with recalcitrant child by nasty teacher) then "he was sat" might convey the sense well enough. It does, but it is not correct. "He was made to sit" is the form to use here, compared with "he was seated by (e.g. the waiter) ..." as the form to use when all parties were happy with the plan.

If we are teaching people English as a second (or indeed third ...) language surely we do our best to teach the correct forms and not the dialect forms we are happy to hear used in demotic conversation. If I am teaching French I don't want to use a textbook which teaches grunts and shrugs and frequent use of "hein?" with which daily conversation is peppered, and the same notion goes for teaching English.

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@Brus - who said anything about teaching foreigners 'who was sat'. I'm a TEFL teacher, and of course I wouldn't do that, just as I don't teach them ultra formal expressions like 'He is taller than I', or 'Who did it - it was he', which some would have us believe is the correct form. What I teach as 'correct' is what the majority of educated speakers find acceptable, not rules set in stone. 'He was sat' is not at that stage yet, but may well become so. And I repeat, most if us don't use formal English very much.

@Arther - age has got nothing to do with it, I've got a good ten years on you, as has David Crystal, probably the greatest living expert on British English, and I don't imagine he gets particularly worked up about this. The difference between us is that I find nothing ugly in the expression, and if it becomes more accepted, it's fine by me. And that I differ with you as whether formal English is the only 'correct' English. Linguists ideas about what constitutes grammar is I think rather different to yours.

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@Brus - innit? From you? I'm truly shocked! It's OK I know you're only joking. In the UK we say 'sit' or 'take' a test or exam, but I don't think I've ever heard 'write' an exam in BrE. It's my impression that 'sit' is more common when talking of more formal exams, for example at university. I think it's more common to say 'sit your finals' than 'take your finals', and I don't think this is anything new. And if you have redo an exam, I think resit is more common than retake, although both are possible. And as a noun it's definitely more common - 'Students are only allowed one resit'. Perhaps this is a BrE / AmE thing? I think the main problem for me though, is that it sounds very strange in the passive - 'a lot of exams were sat' - it's a bit weird.

Nothing wrong with Raymond Chandler; I like a good detective yarn. But it was people like Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson who excited people like me in my generation. I'll leave their respective merits to the literary critics, but Mailer's sentence is fine for me. I simply observe; I don't judge.

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I have never heard this in USA. It sounds wrong to my ear.

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@Brus Amer English stay seated , sat would be Euro English

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Students don't pick up their teacher's accent. It's possible that they might acquire their teacher's grammar, but it's not obvious to me.

I could say more but I'd only be repeating the stuff I've already written about register, context, etc. I like Derek H's point that sometimes teachers have more important things to teach than how to use grammar in formal writing.

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Just heard on BBC Radio 4 'Just a minute', where the contestants are pretty hot on the use of language - from comedienne Sue Perkins - 'When nobody's looking, I like to watch Graham [Norton] sat at a stool, braddle out, delving into a piece of wood'. So here we have it as a participle rather than part of a full verb. And it sounds absolutely fine to me. Interestingly, Perkins is London born, so it must be spreading from its Northern home.

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In the spoken language, "Standard English" is a useful fiction; in the written language, it's a useful semi-fiction.

If most English speakers spoke like a BBC announcer, you might have a case for some sort of "standard". But of course, they don't. And if there's a "Standard English" for the written language, why do Australians, Canadians and Britons insist on "colour" when most English speakers spell it "color"?

Some standard.

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There's no such thing as Standard English, and even so using sat like that is perfectly grammatical.

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Hamish, I would like to congratulate you on the impeccable reasoning you offer for your two statements, but I cannot. Not because it is peccable, but because it is imperceptible. You have supplied none.

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Standard English: what it isn't

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This is a fascinating topic which I have been following for several years now. When I was at school in the 1980s we would have been taught "He was sitting in the seat" or "He was standing there waiting for a bus", but what seems to have happened in recent years is that a form of Northern dialect has taken the upper hand on a country wide basis. Many, if not all BBC presenters and reporters will now say things like "I was stood there in the olympic arena" or "I was sat there in my seat watching the athletics" which to my ears is very bad English (or at least a form of non standard English). I guess that the English language is always evolving, and in the current context we can see before our very eyes/ears the evolution or metamorphosis of the words sitting and standing into the more compact Sat & Stood. It is amusing to note that if I had used this "modern lingo" in school I would have had a grammar book thrown at me (literally) and my english grammar would be marked down, but nowadays it doesn't seem to matter anymore :-(
Even the BBC seem to have thrown in the towel with the words Sitting and Standing which have being consigned to the gramattical dustbin of late (olympic coverage being a prime example) with the more snappy and text worthy "He was sat on the bike" and "He was stood at the start line" < this still sounds so wrong to me, and my english teacher would be turning in his grave if he heard what was happening, but my old school views seem seem to be in the minority these days, so I might as well join in - I am sat here at my Laptop as I write this comment.

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Seeing some people want to try and analyse this from a grammatical point of view, how about this: we use a lot of adjectives that have been formed from the past participles of verbs - interested, tired etc. Many of us say 'I'm done' to mean 'I've finished', I can't really see what's so wrong with saying 'I was sat' instead of 'I was sitting' (and it's a long time since I've heard past continuous/progressive called imperfect!).

I know several educated Northerners with a keen interest in language, who don't speak in dialect, but for whom this 'sat' is quite normal, so that you could almost say it was part of Standard Northern England English, as much as the long u as in oop (up) North is. After all, we have Standard Scottish English, why shouldn't they have Standard Northern English.

Oxford Dictionaries online say 'Originally only in dialect, it is now common in British (though not US) English' (although they do call it informal and not part of standard English.). But then as a distinguished linguist wrote recently on Language Log - 'informal is normal'.

Personally I find it rather an attractive expression and I don't really understand why there is all this fuss about a little local idiosyncrasy.

British English, and especially the BBC, has seen a great deal of democratisation in the last four decades, and the more of it the better. So called BBC English was only ever spoken by a small minority of the population anyway. If you want to find a standard British English nowadays, Estuary English probably has rather a better claim than BBC English. After all BBC English was itself once simply a local dialect.

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@hank faenrich - 'worse', 'shameful'? What specifically is bad or shameful about it? That an idiom that was apparently fine in Northern dialect is now gaining ground in that other dialect known as Standard British English? Which is simply educated Southern English, the dialect that got lucky, no better or worse than any other, linguistically. And notice that this use is general in the North, among educated people as well as among those who use stronger urban dialects such as Scouse or Geordie.

Incidentally 'sat' was sometimes used like this in the past in Standard English, but usually with 'down', and to describe the act of sitting down, rather than the state of being sitting down, in other words 'we are sat down' = modern 'we have sat down', and 'they were sat down' = modern 'they had sat down', but as we discussed elsewhere on this forum: 'same difference'. And for the life of me I can't see any sense of someone sitting these people down:

"Now we are sat down and are at ease, I shall tell you a little more of Trout-fishing"
Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653

"Timandra, and myself, as we were sat
In her apartment grieving for your fate"
Thomas Otway - Alcibiades 1675

"The company were the farmer and his wife, three children and an old grandmother : when they were sat down, the farmer placed me at some distance from him on the table"
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver’s Travels 1726

"then facing about, he marched up abreast with her to the sofa, and in three plain words, — though not before he was sat down, — nor after he was sat down, — but as he was sitting down — told her, 'he was in love;' "
Lawrence Sterne - The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman 1759

Note the 'as he was sitting down' - no trace of passive here.

(of Pontius Pilate) "When he was sat down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, 'Have thou nothing to do with that just man' "
The Book of Common Prayer 1799

And I don't suppose anyone sat him, either.

Some thirty years ago or so, the BBC, in particular, opened up more to regional accents, and now I hope the same thing is happening with dialects, an important and defining feature of British English. It's not really surprising that as we hear more, for example, Northerners using elements of their dialect on TV and radio, that some expressions will take hold, just as exposure to American culture means that the same happens with some American expressions that I don't particularly care for, such as 'I'm good' or the complete absence of any awe in the modern use of 'awesome'. But is that 'shameful'? Of course not. It's just how language works.

Fortunately, English belongs to its speakers, and I for one, rather like this idiom and welcome its spread to areas outwith its original homeland (to use a word from another of the British family of Englishes whose spread I'd welcome).

Googling 'he was sat', I was surprised and flattered that my blog post on the subject comes in at Number Two, second only to PITE, of course.

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1393, 1489, 1936, the North beyond Edgware was ever non-conformist

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@jayles - Southerners could also get quite uppity - 1215, 1481, 1830.

OK, 1936 was pretty easy to get, but I had to look quite hard for the other two. And the common thread? Taxes (and especially war taxes), it would appear. Cheshire seems to have been particularly fractious - 1387, 1394, 1400, 1403, 1416.

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@WW Thanks: I never realized that "Magna Carta" was a Southener thing; and I always thought of "Swing" as a music genre.
"He was sat" is hard to explain grammatically; just idiomatic.

One of the little hurdles with a descriptive approach to grammar is we can end up talking about usage without providing a good explanation of how it got to be like it is.

For example we know "may" can be about possiblity or permission/prohibition and one just has to pick up the relevant meaning from the context. The possibility meaning exists in the equivalent German verb (es mag sein); but I would love to know how we came to permission/prohibition.

Similarly, I am not entirely convinced that "could" in the following sentence MUST be replaced by "were able to" (cf Hewins ) , although it is doubtless less common or less clear:
"..... then it started snowing heaviliy; but despite the blizzard we could drive home safely". Again what is missing for me here is some explanation; I cannot believe it was so complicated in OE or even ME

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Er, I said run and flown, no?

I like your argument, Warsaw Will. Here's a point to make: past participles passive ARE adjectives. In Latin they are all passive, and they are adjectives. You can tell because of their endings-system of declension, as well as by their meaning. Only deponent verbs have active-in-meaning past participles. You cannot say for example "having sent", oddly enough, as there is no deponent verb meaning "send", only "having-been-sent" (forgive the hyphens) but there is a deponent verb "go" so you can say, for example, "having gone". But it as clear as can be that they are adjectives, like the English examples discussed above. Ah! Latin! the key to the door of an understanding of so many things, not least language.

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Both of these are perfectly correct grammatically, even though the first is more common in the north of England, and sounds richer and more descriptive when spoken in a north English accent:

"He was sat at the table".

"He was sitting at the table".

( For the record, "He was sat sitting at the table" is also grammatically correct).

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Tessa - 'I like to watch (him) sat at a stool' is "perfectly correct grammatically", is it? Your assertion is straightforward, and I look forward to reading your reasoning for it when you furnish it. You offer none here.

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a) "The vegetables grew" (Subject+ verb)
b) "We grew the vegetables" (Subject+verb+object)
In a) the verb is intransitive; in b) transitive and causative, that is it really means "we made the vegetables grow".
So the meaning of "grow" changes slightly, but the change is not marked in any way.
There are only a few verbs in English which do mark the change:
rise/raise; fall/fell (fell a tree); sit/set.
Since the meaning of the past participle is passive, its meaning is (usually) transitive and causative. Hence 'set', as in a 'set' piece, and so on.
There are however a few adjectives derived from intransitive verbs, usually different in form from the past participle : shrunken, drunken ... (not shrunk, drunk)
and one or two that happen to be the same: grown, fallen.
As you can see, most of these end in "-en", so it would be mighty strange indeed to put forward 'sat' as the past participle of an intransitive verb.
However it does seem to work that way.

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@Brus - OK, here's my suggestion - it's not a passive, it's not an incorrect past progressive, it's an adjectival participle, as in:

"The house is situated between two large oak trees"
"There were two vases of flowers placed in the middle of the table"
"She's a bit run down at the moment"
"I'm done with the photocopier if you need it" (colloquial but standard - done is an adjective here)

Better still, just treat it as an idiom, or a colloquialism, which is perfectly OK to use in informal (normal) contexts. And one that is increasing in use amongst speakers of otherwise absolutely standard British English, and not only Northerners. According to Ngram its use has tripled in British books in the last two decades or so. A few more years and I don't suppose anyone will bat an eyelid. Actually, in Britain, I think that's pretty well true already, apart from a few pedants.

@Tessa Avon - while I sympathise with your main drift (and it probably does sound better coming from someone like Lee Mack), I'm not sure about your last point - "He was sat sitting at the table". Doesn't sound quite right to me.

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"Brus, however past participles might behave in Latin is irrelevant to English."

Surely you mean: "... how past participles might behave in Latin is irrelevant to English."

Yes, I know. But it proves they are adjectives, which was the essential thrust of my argument.

That they are stuck with being passive in Latin is indeed irrelevant to how they behave in English, certainly. But you cannot really get away in formal English with saying "I was sat" unless it is clear who sat you there. This is because "I was sitting" is the imperfect tense, and "I was sat" is the perfect tense and by the way passive voice. "I was seated" is a challenging one to define, of course. "I was seated at a window table by the waiter" sounds more polite, suggesting that you went along with this arrangement, than "I was sat in the corner by the teacher" which suggests she made you sit there to humiliate you. "I was seated in the corner by the teacher" suggests that she went out of her way to make this pleasing arrangement, because it was a nice place to sit.

I was sitting on a bar stool earlier today, avoiding (for obvious reasons of diplomacy of course) mentioning any of this to any of my interlocutors, some of whom at times employ this quaint form of dialect without making it at all clear that they had been sitting anywhere other than by their own choice, and indeed would not have taken kindly to any attempt to humiliate them by imposing bad seating arrangements.

Those who could not grab a stool were not left stood, but they were left standing.

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I've been thinking about the use (admittedly formal) of 'seated' from the verb 'seat' as in expressions such as 'Please be seated.' and from the Catholic version of the Apostles' Creed - 'and [he] is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty'. These may have had their origins in the passive, but seemed to have lost their passive meaning. Oxford Dictionaries Online has an example of the PP being used as an adjective after an intransitive construction - 'upper boulders were simply seated in the interstices below'. Is the use of 'was sat' so very different from 'is seated'.

@Goofy - Are you by any chance Bradshaw of the Future?

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Brus, I think your criticism of Tessa is misplaced. Tessa did not claim that "...'I like to watch (him) sat at a stool' is "perfectly correct grammatically"..." Actually, it was Will. Well, he didn't exactly claim it was "perfectly correct"; he merely claimed that it sounded "absolutely fine" to him. If you look more carefully, you'll realize that Tessa merely claimed that both "was sat" and "was sitting" are correct. Well, she also claimed that "was sat sitting" is OK. While it does sound awkward, given a little punctuation massage and the right context, I would suggest that it might be grammatical, as in, say, something like: He was sat, sitting at the table (, not at the bar).

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@Arthur - I do apologise for mispelling your name there. And it's not as though e is anywhere near u on the keyboard, so I don't even have that excuse. Sorry.

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No way, Porsche. "Both of these are perfectly correct grammatically" are from Tessa's contribution on 14th May 4.17 am UK time , as you will see if you scroll up a bit.

And "sat" and "sat sitting" in place of "sitting" and "seated" just aren't correct. When these terms are used they do not pretend to be standard English.

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@Brus - I'm not sure how terms can "pretend to be standard English" or not, but that's by the by. Standard English is the form that is acceptable to a majority of native speakers. Sometimes that form includes idiomatic expressions that break "the rules", or at least somebody's rules, for example some pedants call "Who said that? - It was me" and "Who were you speaking to, just then?" incorrect, yet they are perfectly standard.

I would suggest that is exactly what is happening in Britain with "he was sat". It is now often used by people who speak otherwise totally standard British English, and for many (probably most) of us poses absolutely no problem, however much some people cry "incorrect". We've heard it all before: for "ten items or less", for "that" instead of "which"etc. If we are sensible we simply ignore it; the more inquisitive of us try to find an explanation, as I tried to do in my last comment.

Grammar doesn't come from books or immutable laws; it has been formed by generations of native speakers arriving at a consensus as to what is acceptable. I don't hear much outcry in Britain at the increasing use of this (to me rather attractive) idiom. And so what if it is dialect? (After all Standard English is also only a dialect, linguistically speaking). Some of us would welcome a little more dialect in realms where Standard English has traditionally held sway: on the BBC, for example.

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"I was sat" is horrible but I've even heard BBC correspondents use it. Here in France there's the Academie Française to protect the language; but in the UK so many people have never learned English grammar at school. And now that there's something called "international English" - which I come across a great deal in the course of my work - the richness and precision of English is quickly going down the pan. The French resent the fact that English is the international language these days; I tell them be glad that it isn't their language which is being chewed up and spat out. Much of the problem comes from slang American I'm afraid, e.g. the use of "like" for "as if" or "as though". (An educated American friend confirms this.) Like is used before a noun: "He looks like a horse." Before a verb it's as if or as though: So "It looks like he's going to be late." doesn't sound right. We are losing much richness: the word "that" is used for "who" and for "which"; the word "which" is disappearing altogether in international speak.

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@Jackie- the use of 'like' as a filler is nothing new. I'm of the hippy generation, and we used it a lot back in the late sixties. I was listening to an old radio comedy, Beyond Our Ken, from 1961 on Radio 4 Extra the other day, and one character asked another what he was called. 'You mean, like what's my name?' he answered - The idea that this is anything new is pure myth; it goes back at least to the Beat generation (1950s). And the funny thing is that the foreign students I hear using 'like' most are the well-educated ones who have travelled and done things like go on Erasmus. Nearly everybody I know (including me) uses 'like' as a filler in informal conversation. And as you can see I'm no youngster. Nor do I speak American slang, or any other kind of slang for that matter.

Again 'that' being used instead of 'which' in defining relative clauses is also nothing new; and although most of the support for this practice is in America, it has nothing to do with slang; quite the opposite, it is the American grammar mavens and quality press who insist on this. What's more, it was originally the idea of the very British H.W.Fowler to replace 'which' with 'that', back in 1926.

And the use of 'that' instead of 'who', also in defining relative clauses, is much more frowned on in America than in Britain. And again it's nothing new, going back at least as far as Chaucer. In British course books for teaching foreigners, 'who' and 'that' for people, and 'which' and 'that' for things are all seen as perfectly acceptable. Because that's what most of us do - interchange them at will. And of course, when the relative pronoun refers to the object, we tend to drop it altogether - 'He's the man I love'.

And sorry, but for me one of the great glories of English is that it doesn't have anything like the Academie Française, which most French people ignore anyway, to stifle it.

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Brus, I think you missed my point. Yes, we are talking about the same post. Yes, Tessa did say "Both of these are perfectly correct grammatically", but Tessa never said anything about "I like to watch (him) sat at a stool" being "perfectly correct grammatically".

The "...sat at a stool..."comment was from Warsaw Will's post of September 4, 2012, 12:03pm, not Tessa's post. Tessa's post does follow, but has nothing to do with Will's previous post. Hers is just a continuing discussion of the relevant topic.

Look closely again at Tessa's post. Here's a shortened version:

"Both of these are ... correct...:"
"He was sat at the table".
"He was sitting at the table".

See the colon? The "Both" in Tessa's post is clearly referring to the two examples in Tessa's own post. She was comparing "...was sat at the table" to "...was sitting at the table" and nothing more. If she were replying specifically to Will's comment, why would she use the word "both"? Will didn't offer two examples to be compared. Why would she follow up with a colon and then list two examples that only make sense in the context of her previous sentence? Her post stands on its own. In fact, it only makes sense when viewed this way.

Do note, I'm not addressing whether or not "was sat" is OK; I'm merely clarifying Tessa's comments.

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W Will, I think Jackie's point about "like" in place of "as if", or "as though" has come out a bit mangled in your comments. I am wholly with Jackie on each and every point mentioned here; perhaps in retirement from lucrative employment we could set up an Academie Anglaise and commission some busts of ourselves to put in our Pantheon of the Immortals, once we have sorted out the use of relative pronouns.

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Porsche - my point exactly. Tessa quoted with approval "... was sat the table" and said it was perfectly correct grammatically. (As you say.)

It isn't.

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No, Brus, you claimed that Tessa said that "I like to watch (him) sat at a stool" is perfectly correct grammatically, which is not what she said :) Go back and read your own post.

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And now, to address the topic at hand, sure, "was sat" may be an idiom; it may sound odd, and it might even be used incorrectly, but how could it possibly be ungrammatical? "Seated" is a different verb entirely, from "to seat". Sit does have a past participle. It's "sat". It isn't "seated".

The word "sit" has a number of definitions with subtle differences. It can mean "to be in a sitting position", or "to assume a sitting position", but it can also mean "to place someone (or oneself) into a sitting position". If one were to use "was sat" as the passive voice, meaning "to be placed into a sitting position", then exactly how would that be ungrammatical? Something like "I was sat in the third row by that usher over there".

Yes, yes, you could say "I was seated by that usher...", but that's a different verb entirely. Synonymous, yes, but so what? "To sit" means "to place in a seated position", just like "to seat" does. So again, just because there's another more common way to say something doesn't make another version wrong no matter how unusual or awkward it may sound. So, if someone said "I was sat in the front row. It was great!" and they meant that they were sitting in the front row, then yes, their statement might be considered wrong or at least idiomatic, but still not ungrammatical. You see, they might have meant that that they were placed in their seats, perhaps by an usher, or even under their own locomotion. This construction would be correct, which validates the grammar regardless of its potential misuse.

By the way, if you really think about it, "was sat" has definite advantages over "was seated". "Was seated" is ambiguous. It can mean "was sitting" or "was placed in one's seat". But, "was sat" can only mean "was placed in one's seat". So, if you want to clearly and unambiguously indicate that you were brought to your seat and placed in it, then "was sat" should really be preferred, yes?

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@Brus & @Jackie - unfortunately I have to agree wholeheartedly with you Brus. I didn't read Jackie's post properly (for which I apologise Jackie) and started barking up the wrong tree about 'like', which I realised, to my horror, in the middle of the night. But I stick absolutely to what I said about relative pronouns, the history of which are well documented.

I think the sort of use Jackie was talking about was something like '' ... and looked like we were a pretty good combination", or "... middle-aged men who looked like they might be out for their one night of the year." The first, incidentally, is from Harry S.Truman, and the second from Norman Mailer.

Burchfield in the New Fowler's says that their are plenty examples from good AmE and Australian sources, but that it is much less common in BrE. MWDEU says this use is common after certain verbs - feel, look and sound, for example.This example is from BBC Radio 4 - "It looks like Terry Waite will leave for London in a couple of days." And some have become idiomatic - "She's studying like mad". I don't think "as if mad" would really work there.

I don't think I'd use 'like' in this way in formal writing, but I can't really see the harm of it in casual conversation or in an off-the-cuff remark.

But Jackie has thrown up an interesting point (and a possible topic for my blog) - 'like' has so many disputed uses:

as - "We are overrun with them, like the Australians were by rabbits" (Churchill)
as is /as though - see above
for example - "German cars, like Mercedes"
as a general filler - see above
about, or indicating surprise? - "There were like three hundred people there."
said - "He was like 'how are you', and I was like 'fine.'"
Don't worry, I don't use the last one, but there's a wicked parody of it here - - Warning: contains the 'F-word', but only once, at the end.

As for an Academie Anglaise, a group calling themselves the "Queen's English Society" tried to do this recently and failed miserably. They disbanded a couple of months ago, much to the mirth of the linguistics blogosphere.

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Correction - 'for example' should read 'such as'

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You, Porsche, say: Sit does have a past participle. It's "sat". It isn't "seated".

I say 'sit' has a past participle active "sitting" and passive "seated". Active when he chose to sit, passive when it was forced upon him, so to speak, and he was made to sit.

"Sat" is the past, or perfect, tense of sit. As in the cat sat on the mat. If you say the cat was sat on the mat it means it was told to do it (but it wouldn't, of course, because it was a cat). If you say the cat was sitting on the mat it means it was already there, in that position, having sat down there earlier.

Warsaw Will quoted with approval Sue Perkins "When nobody's looking, I like to watch Graham [Norton] sat at a stool, braddle out ...", then eight months later Tessa asserted, without giving any grammatical argument or reason whatever, "both of these are completely correct ... " which I took to be a reference to the argument so far. She then suggested "was sat" and "sat" and "was sat sitting" as being just fine. The colon at the end of her first paragraph shows that she was in fact referring to what was to come, and to what had gone before. It's a very small colon, but it is there and I missed it. mea culpa.

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@Jackie - Are you sure 'which' is disappearing in 'international speak'? My students almost never use 'that' instead of 'which' as a relative pronoun as the different uses of 'which' in English coincide with one Polish word, while the Polish word for 'that' is never used as a pronoun. But in French it is different, 'qui' being the subject relative pronoun and 'que' being the object relative pronoun. Not only is 'que' also the French word for the conjunction 'that', but French has different words for interrogative 'which' - 'quel' etc. So for French people, it might be easier to use 'that'. But I think this is a very specific case.

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Did I say 'referring to what was to come, and to what had gone before'? I meant of course 'referring to what was to come, not to what had gone before'. I like colons, but you don't see them much these days.

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@porsche - Sorry to put a spanner in the works, but "She was sat at the bar", as used idiomatically in British English, means precisely "was sitting", and has nothing to do with being placed there by anyone. Similarly in "I was stood at the street corner watching the traffic go by." Nobody "stood" me there. To that extent, Brus is correct.

Although I think a theoretical grammatical explanation can be put forward for it, which I tried to do in an earlier comment, what it really boils down to is this is an idiomatic expression which is becoming increasingly popular among speakers of Standard British English. Many authorities, Fowler for one, believe(d) that established idiomatic use supersedes theoretical grammar. I grant you that "was sat" is still borderline, but it is very evident listening to BBC Radio 4 (the most "Standard" of British radio stations) that its use is becoming increasingly common among non-dialect speakers.My bet is that in twenty years or so, few people will remember what all the fuss was about.

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Porsche says 'But, "was sat" can only mean "was placed in one's seat".' and argues that this is unambiguous. Yes. Exactly my point. But what has been at issue all through this debate is that this unambiguous expression is all too commonly used incorrectly, rendering it ambiguous after all.

Some have said that expressions such as "you lot sat there in the corner" (describing where you lot are, not to what you did) sound plain wrong and the users of such ugly expressions are diminished in the opinion of the audience who may be job interviewers, or potential donors to worthy causes, who will be put off. So there may be serious consequences to using such terms.

Some say they are ungrammatical, because the wrong parts of the verb are being used, so causing confusion as to what is meant.

Others say it doesn't matter as long as the drift of what is being said is clear enough so let it all hang out and don't bother to get it right because folk'll probably know what you mean, hey?

Is 'Pain in the English' the right forum for arguing that it doesn't matter whether it is correct? We all know that hardly anyone uses correct English in informal situations, but we should look to to ensure that people have a chance to know what is correct so that when it matters, especially in formal situations, we may use it.

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W Will - Norman Mailer a model of Standard English usage? I would look at Raymond Chandler.
Oh my Gawd! A man on television just now said that in England lots of exams were sat this year (the grades have been increasingly inflated over all the years since GCSE was invented, by the way, until almost everyone got an A, so this year the markers did what they were told and got a bit stricter, (A grade proportion one in 200 fewer than last year) so now everyone is horrified, and screaming that it is all so unfair, innit?) My own horror and screaming was on hearing that the exams "were sat". In my day exams were "taken" or "written". But it is true, too, that in my day we lived in dread that our classmates would find out we had first names, or worse what those names were, or that we had parents, so we were a bit of a mess, really, even if we got our grammar and syntax well polished!

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@Brus, re: "I say 'sit' has a past participle active "sitting" and passive "seated"." Sorry, but I must disagree. "Sitting" is not the past participle of "sit". It is the present participle. "...Was sitting..." is the past progressive tense (which is not active, per se, but used to show a continuous action or state of being in the past). And, sorry, but no, "seated" isn't any kind of participle for the verb "to sit". It is the past participle of the verb "to seat".

@Will, dont worry. You haven't thrown a spanner anywhere. As I pretty much already intimated, I quite agree that users of "was sat" probably mean "was sitting", etc., but I think the grammatical argument is hardly theoretical. What people actually mean is irrelevant to my point. That's a matter of semantics, not grammar. Perhaps I'm beating a dead horse, as I've already made my point, but compare:

I pushed John
I was pushing John
I was pushed by John

I ran the company
I was running the company
The company was run by me

I sat
I was sitting
I was sat (by someone or myself)

As in all the other examples, "was sitting" is the past progressive (continuous, state of being); "was sat" is the past perfect (discrete action, action verb).

As for common usage being idiomatic, of course that's the case. But, consider the following; everyone who was sitting must have been sat and everyone who has been sat (or seated, if you prefer) must have been sitting afterwards. It is impossible to be one without having first been the other. Thus, at least to me, it is perfectly understandable how the two could become so semantically intertwined that the meaning would become blurred, leading to the present idiomatic use. By the way, I made a similar argument about "have got" in another post here and was vehemently (and incorrectly), dismissed (when I have sufficient time, I will probably write a lengthy rebuttal there).

Actually, if you think about it, isn't "was seated" meaning "to be in a sitting position", just as idiomatic, if not more so? The verb "to seat" never means to be sitting. It only means to place into a seated position. At least the verb "to sit" can mean both. It's really less logical to accept "was seated" over "was sat" (and before everyone gets their panties in a bunch, I'm not claiming that it's wrong. All of these idioms are commonly understood and their meanings are well defined).

Funny how a bunch of pedants (myself included) can bicker so doggedly over that which we mostly agree on:)

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Also, Brus, I'm a little confused about your objection to "you lot sat there in the corner". I certainly understand your objection to "was sat", but are you claiming that just plain "sat" can only be used to mean "placed into a sitting position"? If I'm not mistaken, the dichotomy of "sat" meaning both "to be in a sitting position" and "to be placed into a sitting position" is as old as the word itself, going back to its Proto-Germanic roots.

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@Brus - I'd love to be at the job interview where someone says "Hey, you lot sat in the corner!" - You say that "the users of such ugly expressions are diminished in the opinion of the audience who may be job interviewers..." - Most of us have a sense of register and know when certain expressions are appropriate, and when they're not.

And as for "potential donors to worthy causes, who will be put off" - Hardly; potential donors don't seem to be quite as po-faced as you give them credit for. At the first Live-Aid concert, broadcast live on prime-time TV, the BBC announcer was about to read out the address where donations could be sent, when Bob Geldorf interrupted with "Fuck the address, let's get the numbers!" - After his outburst, giving increased to £300 per second. (Wikipedia).

You ask "Is 'Pain in the English' the right forum for arguing that it doesn't matter whether it is correct? We all know that hardly anyone uses correct English in informal situations, but we should look to to ensure that people have a chance to know what is correct so that when it matters, especially in formal situations, we may use it." - I have no problem with teaching people to use more formal language when it is appropriate, but I hotly contest that only formal usage is "correct". As the author of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has said, "informal is normal". To say that the everyday informal language spoken by the majority of educated speakers is incorrect is to totally misunderstand what grammar is: the syntax we use to be able to be mutually understood. What you mean by "correct" is not how linguists understand "correct". "I my dog for a walk took" is incorrect; no native speaker would say it. "Me and John are going to the pub", on the other hand, is just a matter of register, or formality. And now you seem to be questioning whether 'Pain in the English' should be the forum for discussing things that don't come into your narrow idea of "correctness". Are you suggesting that those of us who don't share your prescriptive views of the English language should just shut up?

In any case it's "Pain in the English", not "Pain in the Grammar". English is about a lot more than grammar. It is also about idiomatic, natural, everyday language, something you seem to despise. It must be hard going through life with all this ugliness around you.

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@porsche - A couple of things - 'As in all the other examples, "was sitting" is the past progressive (continuous, state of being); "was sat" is the past perfect (discrete action, action verb).' - that's a bit at odds with what you (correctly) said on another post, that "had he had breakfast?" was past perfect. "Was sat" can't be anything perfect as all perfect forms involve the auxiliary "have". There are only two possible standard grammatical explanations - it is a passive construction, or an adjectival participle (the explanation I favour).

You also suggest that "I was sat" means by someone or myself. But in English we don't usually use passive constructions for actions we do to ourselves, where other languages might use a reflexive. We don't say "This morning I was cut while I was shaved" unless we've been to visit a barber. We might say informally "Sit yourself down", but we wouldn't say "please, be sat". There is, I grant you, of "Please be seated", but I imagine that is an exception, and originally meant that someone would "seat" you, as in a restaurant.

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@porsche - from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary for sit:

1. intransitive - to rest your weight on your bottom with your back vertical, for example on/in a chair - "He went and sat beside her."

2. transitive - sit somebody + adverb/preposition to put somebody in a sitting position - "She sat him down in front of the fire with a hot drink."

The standard use is intransitive - you don't sit yourself, you just sit.

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Hold hard there, Warsaw Will. Personal attack is not playing the debating game. "It is also about idiomatic, natural, everyday language, something you seem to despise. It must be hard going through life with all this ugliness around you."

I have repeatedly written of how I enjoy the peculiarities of Scottish English, Scots, South African, West Country, Australian and even American English. Life is not hard at all, I assure you. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am arguing that there is a standard form suitable for formal occasions, and it should be known what it is so that it may be used when it is appropriate to do so, and that the people to show the way include teachers.

What's ungrammatical about "Fuck the speech"? Seems fine to me. A simple imperative. In my working days as a teacher I often thought in such terms when attending interminable meetings listening to old bores droning on.

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@Brus - OK, I apologise, "despise" was too strong a word and I was a bit harsh. But you do seem to use words like "ugly" and "terrible" rather a lot when discussing dialect expressions or grammatical constructions you don't approve of.

And you say that "We all know that hardly anyone uses correct English in informal situations". I disagree, and so would any linguist. Hardly anyone uses formal grammar in informal situations, that's true, but that doesn't mean we're not using correct grammar, just grammar of a different register. (And in fact there aren't that many differences between formal and informal grammar anyway - and most of those are to do with the use of pronouns).

For me, formal really does mean formal. And that doesn't necessarily include the classroom or the broadcasting studio. In an English class children should learn Standard English, but I see no reason why teachers shouldn't use the dialect they share with the children to talk about science, or even Standard English - some studies have shown that children do better at Standard English when a comparative approach is used. Perhaps you've seen the film 'Kes'; was the teacher a worse teacher because he used dialect with the boy? I think not. Because he was making real contact with him; something the other teachers hadn't managed to do.

I heartily welcome the expansion of regional accents on British radio and TV and see no reason why a bit more dialect shouldn't slip in as well. After all, that's how most people speak in Britain and we are quite used to hearing dialect in drama and comedy programmes. Standard English is not better than regional dialects, just more appropriate in certain social situations. But times change. Businessmen who use Standard English with their clients may well chat in dialect with their colleagues. With some clients they will use a more formal register than with others. And language (in Britain at least) has been getting less formal for the last fifty years or so.

As for Geldorf's outburst, I wasn't talking about grammar but about register. The F-word is not normally considered acceptable pre-watershed fare.

And I'm still baffled by your comment - "Is 'Pain in the English' the right forum for arguing that it doesn't matter whether it is correct? " - for a start, I don't think anyone was arguing that, but I was certainly arguing that there are times when idiom takes precedence over formal grammar. And your definition of what is correct and not correct is very different from mine (for example 'singular they'), and from the norms of TEFL, for example. So I think it is exactly the right forum for discussing what we mean by correct, and and how much importance we should give to formal grammar.

Our philosophies on language are very different, and no doubt we will continue to cross swords. But I'll try to temper my language in future.

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Thank you, Warsaw Will. Indeed. My points exactly.

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