set off vs set out

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mauro1

New Member
Italian
Hi everybody, it is the first time I post here.
I posted the same question in the English-Spanish session but it was a mistake, I did not want to do that, I misunderstood the title of the forum.
Anyway is there someone here that could explain to me the difference between the two phrasal verbs in the topic.
I did not find any reference about set out in Wordreference.com but my dictionary writes about in an unclear way for me.
Could you add some example please?
This question is for a native English speaker.

Thank you in advance.

Mauro
 
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Both phrasal verbs have several meanings, Mauro, and they can mean very similar things:

    To set off on a journey is very similar to to set out on a journey.

    On the other hand we say:

    He set out the principles which we were to follow.
    He set off the principles which we were to follow.:cross:

    and

    The background set off the picture very imaginatively.
    The background set out the picture very imaginatively.:cross:
     

    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I would refer you to the Dictionary Thesaurus for a thorough breakdown of the usages of these two phrases. My recollection of the common usages are:

    Set off is used when it is a cause to happen, a cause to explode or a cause of a sudden reaction. Eg. If the soldiers' bonuses are not paid, it will set off a march on the nation's capital.

    Set out refers to the beginning of an undertaking, to a display or the start of a journey. Eg., After he sobered up, Jacques set out on chapter one of his novel.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    What about this sentence:
    James had to set ........... at dawn to catch the early train.
    The answer is: off.

    Why can't we use: out?
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Hello,

    Is 'out' the only possibility in the following sentence (taken from an exercise on phrasal verbs with 'set'):
    They set ... in search of the lost child.
    ?
    The key says it's 'out', but I'm wondering if 'off' can work if the meaning is 'leave'.
    What is the difference between the two please?
    Is there any other possibility?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I actually think the key, if this is the same book, is making quite good suggestions.

    We would most naturally say, I think, we set off to the station and we set out in search of the lost child.

    Setting off
    implies a more everyday and run-of-the-mill kind of departure than setting out, which gives more the air of an expedition.
     
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    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Thank you, Thomas.

    One of the dictionaries gives the following:
    set off/out
    to start a journey:
    What time will we have to set off for the station tomorrow?
    Jenny set off down the road on her new bike.
    They've just set off on a round-the-world cruise.

    (Definition of set off/out from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
    http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/set-off-out

    This might be confusing to English students, but the explanation you give is clear.
    However, at another entry:
    set out
    C2 to start an activity with a particular aim:
    She set out with the aim of becoming the youngest ever winner of the championship.
    [+ to infinitive]
    They set out to discover a cure for cancer.
    › to start a journey

    (Definition of set out from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)


    I'm wondering if 'set out' in my sentence might be a conflation of its two meanings, i.e. 'to start a journey' and 'to begin doing something':
    They set out in search of the lost child. = They set out (left) to search for the lost child. ?
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Both these terms have various meanings, some of which are quite distinct.

    'Set off' in the context of journeys means 'start' in the intransitive sense.
    (1) 'We had set off for London in good weather, but then we ran into thick fog.'

    'Set out' in the context of initiating action usually implies a purpose leading to an aim or objective.
    It may involve physical movement or not.
    (2) 'They had set out to reach the next stage by four o'clock, but did not arrive till six.'
    (3) 'He set out to deceive me and he succeeded.'
    They set out in search of the lost child.
    This sentence corresponds to my example (2): it implies a purpose, while also involving physical movement.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'He set out to deceive me' means 'He entered on the action he took with the intention of deceiving me', in this sense:
    'It was with the intention of deceiving me that he entered on the action he took'.

    'Set out' in this case expresses both the initiation of the action and the intent or purpose.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    It looks a bit unusual in this context to me, but it seems that he enthusiastically started doing something in order to deceive me.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    What about:
    He got down to deceiving me.
    An unlikely expression: it is not an idiomatic collocation.

    We say for example 'He got down to work'. The implication is that to do the work or not was entirely his choice.
    Deceiving someone is never entirely in the doer's hands. He may try, but fail.

    Even if we say 'He got down to trying to deceive me', the expression is not very idiomatic.
    We typically need, if we are going to say 'got down to' in this sense, a more concrete activity.
     
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    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    An unlikely expression: it is not an idiomatic collocation. ...
    Even if we say 'He got down to trying to deceive me', the expression is not very idiomatic.
    It is awkward, but I hoped you would understand 'get down to' as as 'sort of' synonymous with 'set out to.' I can't find an exact Polish counterpart for that expression. (I was also thinking of 'embarked on'.)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It is awkward, but I hoped you would understand 'get down to' as as 'sort of' synonymous with 'set out to.'
    Sorry: I am afraid not.
    I can't find an exact Polish counterpart for that expression.
    That can happen between one language and another.
    (I was also thinking of 'embarked on'.)
    That tells us he started the action, but it does not mention the intention. (It too would be rather unidiomatic if you said 'embarked on deceiving me'. 'Embarked on the attempt to deceive me' would be good, but bear in mind that this implies that some mention of such an attempt or intention has already been made.)
     
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