Re: Set [preposition]?

Subject: Re: Set [preposition]?
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 1995 07:15:12 -1000

>Karen Kay says:
> I really can't think of a situation
> where 'set', 'modem', and 'for' all co-occur. It sounds colloquially
> inaccurate to my ear.

>The way you set your electric iron for wool or for cotton, I can
>imagine you might think of setting a modem "for" a particular
>speed. It means thinking of the speed more as a characteristic
>of the data that the modem handles than as a characteristic of
>the modem itself. I can understand such a point of view, but
>I'm not sure I'd promote it...
> mark -at- sd -dot- co -dot- il

Choosing the preposition for _set_ should take into account two
ideas: the mechanism that does the setting, the result of the

If the result is important, then use _for_. "Set the air flow
for maximum comfort." In Mark's example, the result (for
wool/cotton) is correct. Unless, you are telling the iron
user to select a setting on the iron itself, in which case
you are describing the setting mechanism, not the result.

Where the result is abstract or inconsequential, you will probably
describe the setting mechansim, be it a knob, a menu item or a value.
Here you should use _to_ or _at_. "When washing whites, set the wash
temperature dial to WARM." (Note that you just as easily use the
verb _turn_.)

I would choose _to_ when the mechanism selects infinite increments.
"Set the water flow to 35 gallons per minute." When the number
of options are fixed, I would choose _at_. "Set the modem speed
at 19,200 bits per second."

In summary:

* _for_ describes the result
* _to_ describes a target from an infinite (or large number)
of increments
* _at_ describes a selection from a fixed number of choices

Carl Millholland

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