It’s one of the most widespread errors in spoken and written English. However, many people remain unaware they’re setting teeth on edge left, right and centre by falling into the age-old sat/sitting, stood/standing trap.

According to the rules of formal English, the past tense of ‘to sit’ is ‘sitting’ – not ‘sat’. Likewise, the past tense of ‘to stand’ is ‘standing’ – not ‘stood’.

It’s something of a north/south divide quandary, with our southern friends less likely to step into this particular linguistic cow-pat than we northerners.

For the purpose of professional communications (the speciality of our business copywriters here at Wordsworks) it’s wise to know your stoods from your sittings and your sats from your sittings – as well as those instances where the apparently incorrect versions can legitimately be applied.

Let’s look at some sample sentences.

  • “The girl was sat on the stool.” Wrong.
  • “The girl was sitting on the stool.” Right.
  • “The boy was stood by the postbox.” Wrong.
  • “The boy was standing by the postbox.” Right.

So, what are the exceptions – in other words, when is it okay to use ‘sat’ and ‘stood’?

Simply put, it’s when the object of the sentence – in this case the girl or the boy – is passive in their situation, i.e. they have been positioned in those situations by other forces.

For example, if the girl was seated on the stool by her teacher, ‘sat’ is permissible. Likewise, if the boy was placed alongside the postbox by his mother, ‘stood’ would be equally fine.

If in doubt – and if corresponding with a client on a business matter – it’s probably best in 90 per cent of circumstances to stick to the more usual ‘sitting’ and ‘standing’.

Leave the likes of ‘sat’ and ‘stood’ for the pub – and even then, be careful if you’re anywhere south of Solihull…