Was Sat or Was Sitting on the Grammatical Fence?

I provide the following which can be perused rather than closely scrutinised – unless you have the stomach – and it proves a number of things, the first that pedantry is alive and well beyond myself [was so in 2005/6, but there are current examples], and to acknowledge the source it comes from the englishforums.com site, but there are plenty of others similar to this out there.

It also proves what an utter waste of time it is to set the type of grammar test the government currently proposes for Key Stage 2, or any other level. The point is, the degree of disagreement, and the intensity of the analysis and interpretation applicable over a single grammatical query like this exemplifies the messiness of seeking to engage with it. More pertinently, the idea of setting a test with definitive answers to grammar questions like this is nonsensical.

I’ll let the following thread speak further. And this is just one page: it continues, but I didn’t have the stomach:

The continuous (or progressive) verb forms in English are constructed with the present participle (-ing form), not the past participle (-ed form) of the verb.

In your example, sat is an irregular verb, so its past participle does not end in -ed. Nevertheless, sat is indeed its past participle, so cannot be used in this active progressive sentence.

Of course, if this sentence were considered passive (which it is not, since you have also given us the correct equivalent), then sat would be possible– but such a sentence would no longer be progressive:

The little boy has been sat at the table by his father and is not permitted to leave it until his plate is clean as a whistle.

(I presume that you meant to write at rather than on in your original?)

goldmund:
AnonymousCan anyone tell me why it is not correct English to say “He has been sat on the table all day” as opposed to “He has been sitting at the table all day”
Dear Anonymous,

I have observed that English people may say «was sat» in place of «was sitting». It appears to be a northern English idiom. In my opinion, it is used for humorous effect by southern English persons. It is perhaps no longer amusing.

Kind regards,

Goldmun
Reply

Forbes:
I agree that was sat (when not passive) is a colloquial expression and should be avoided in formal situations. It is interesting to note that in Spanish when talking about sitting and other bodily positions it is necessary to use the past participle – the use of the present participle would suggest that you are actually in the process of sitting. Perhaps this thought is behind the use of the past participle in the colloquial expression.
2nd September 2005Regular Member933

Reply

MrPedantic:
The ‘humour’ in ‘I was sat there’ seems to reside in the thought of ‘being plonked there’, like a small child.

It is annoying when southern folk say it, though. Makes you want to slap a few heads.

MrP
3rd September 2005Veteran Member12,806

Reply

Forbes:
Is it in fact a northern expression? I am sure people in the south (I am from Brighton and you cannnot get any more south than that) use the expression. It may just be though that I have heard it a lot on TV.
3rd September 2005

Reply

MrPedantic:
That’s true. Maybe it just sounds northern.

MrP
4th September 2005

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Anonymous:
I think the “I was sat” may have originated with a very popular TV commedienne who some years ago would fold her arms and push them under her bosom and commence her next joke with “I was sat sitting…” or “I was stood standing..” which immediately had the audience falling about laughing before she told her joke.
29th March 2006

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MrPedantic:
Some tv comedians have certainly milked the phrase. I think Victoria Wood used to say it a lot; and perhaps still does. (Or was that who you were thinking of, Anon?)

MrP
30th March 2006

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Rotter:
The little boy has been sat at the table by his father and is not permitted to leave it until his plate is clean as a whistle.

1] Is it correct to say ‘has been sat at the table’ in any context?

2] What is the meaning of the words ‘his plate is clean as a whistle’ ?

In football, referee blows the whistle.

Given the context, whilstle blowers are like watchdogs.

Politicians or rather government ministers and prime minisers make whistle-stop tours.
30th March 2006Regular Member959

Reply

paco2004:
RotterThe little boy has been sat at the table by his father and is not permitted to leave it until his plate is clean as a whistle.
1] Is it correct to say ‘has been sat at the table’ in any context?
Yes, it is correct. It is a (present perfect) passive construct. The boy didn’t want to sit but his father made him sit.
Rotter2] What is the meaning of the words ‘his plate is clean as a whistle’ ?
In football, referee blows the whistle.
“Clean as a whiste” is an idiom to mean “very clean”. A whistle makes a very sharp and clear sound. So Dickens used a phrase “clean as a whistle” in his novel and it became an idiom.

paco

Reply

Rotter:
Paco says the following is correct.
The little boy has been sat at the table by his father and is not permitted to leave it until his plate is clean as a whistle.

OK, then the following should be correct too.

The little boy has been cried because his father did not permit to play outside when it drizzles.

If the past tense of the word ‘sit’ fits here, the past tense of the word ‘cry’ should fits too.
30th March 2006
Reply

CalifJim:
a very popular TV commedienne who some years ago would fold her arms and push them under her bosom and commence her next joke with “I was sat sitting…” or “I was stood standing..”
Exactly. That was Mollie Sugden playing Mrs. Slocum in Are You Being Served?. It was nearly always the expression of outrage at having to wait.

CJ
30th March 2006Veteran Member67,639

Reply

Rotter:
CalifJim

The following must be an Amrican affair or rather American TV program.

Mollie Sugden playing Mrs. Slocum in Are You Being Served.

I am not aware of it.
30th March 2006

Reply

paco2004:
RotterPaco says the following is correct.
The little boy has been sat at the table by his father and is not permitted to leave it until his plate is clean as a whistle.
OK, then the following should be correct too.
The little boy has been cried because his father did not permit to play outside when it drizzles.
If the past tense of the word ‘sit’ fits here, the past tense of the word ‘cry’ should fits too.
Hi Rotter

You cannot say “The little boy has been cried”. “Sit” can be both intransitive (=”Someone sits”) and transitive (=”Someone sits other person”). But “cry” is only intransitive (=”Someone cries”).

paco
30th March 2006

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CalifJim:
Rotter,
It’s British. Probably at the height of its popularity before you were born! (1970’s)
I only know it through more recent reruns in the States.
CJ
31st March 2006

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Anonymous:
You should only use “he has been sat on the table” if you meant that someone else picked up the person and put them in a sitting position. For all other circumstances, you should use “he has been sitting on the table”.
5th June 2007

Reply

Anonymous:
When I was at school, one of the teachers used to say to the pupils ” I want all of you children sat over here”. Is this correct english? I always thought it should be “….sitting over here”.
13th July 2007

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