By terdon


2016-07-09 13:04:01 8 Comments

In BrE, one can apparently use I'm sat here to mean I'm sitting here. This seems to be a relatively modern usage:

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I had originally thought that this was a regional or dialectical variant and had asked a question about this, but the discussion in the comments and the fact that I found many occurrences of the phrase in print (searching Google Books) suggest that it is in fact quite widespread:

Don't think: I'm sat here waiting for my plays to be produced; think: I am sat here waiting to write those plays that can only be produced, now. [source]

I'm sat here in Vittles waiting for a second pot of tea, and life is OK, on the whole. [source]

I'm sat here, in the back of a van with my Thermos full of hot tea, protecting a car-park. [source]

And it'sonly now that I'm sat here to with Emma that the absurdity of what I'm doing is starting hit home. [source]

I'm sat here watching and listening to them talk. [source]

When I'm sat beside his grave / The reason I'm sat here crying / Is for the life I couldn't save. [source]

I'm sat here, tears running down my face and no one asks if I'm okay. [source]

However, it was suggested in the comments (1, 2) that there may be a difference in meaning between I'm sat here and I am sitting here with the former beeing more negative. Perhaps because it implies a certain "passivity", that the person so sitting was placed there as opposed to having chosen to sit. While some of the examples I found and am quoting above do seem to be negative, I don't see evidence of such a trend.

So, my question here is i) is there actually any difference between I'm sat here and I'm sitting here and, ii) if so, does the former have some sort of negative connotation?


Please note that this is about the specific usage of sat to replace sitting and not for cases such as "I sat the baby down".

It is also not a duplicate of Is "I am sat" bad English? which is asking whether I'm sat is "good English". I am instead asking whether there is any subtle difference in usage between the two.

3 comments

@Roaring Fish 2016-07-09 18:10:52

Ignoring the grammarian 'it is wrong' response, the 'standard' (for want of a better term) answer is that it is a quasi-passive. Fowler, for example, explains it as such in his Pocket Modern English Usage. The basic idea is that sentences such as "someone broke the car" and "the car needs fixing" are passive-like in function though not form as the actor is external and/or unknown.

Maybe more relevantly, the same idea allows the passive voice to have a continuum of function for the past participle from adjective-like to verb-like. In this, sentences like "I'm sat/I'm stood" are more adjective-like in function while "I'm sitting/I'm standing" are obviously more verb-like.

In short, "I'm sat here" is similar to "I'm big" or "I'm tall" - you are describing yourself more than saying what activity you are engaged in. In contrast "I'm sitting here" is saying what you are doing.

In the spirit of being fair, I am not 100% convinced by this explanation but neither can I think of a better one.

@terdon 2016-07-09 18:13:41

Interesting, thanks. So are you suggesting that its passive nature makes it carry slightly negative connotations? Also, the Fowler quote is hidden for me. Would it be possible to reproduce it in your answer?

@Roaring Fish 2016-07-09 18:24:04

You are welcome. As I understand the argument (and keeping in mind that my field is language aquisition rather than this kind of stuff...) the difference is in the function of the phrase. "I'm sat here" leans towards your situation or state similar to "I'm angry", but "I'm siitting here" describes your action, similar to "I'm waiting".

@Mari-Lou A 2016-07-10 12:49:54

I feel a little uncomfortable posting this as an answer, because it involves the death of a young man, and I don't mean to belittle his demise. However, from purely a linguistic point of view, the headline is of some interest.

The Mail Online, a British Newspaper tabloid, has the following sad title (Jul 10th 2016 2PM)

Pictured: Wife who was sat in the crowd as her Spanish matador husband was gored to death - the first bullfighter killed in 30 years

I'm pretty sure, ten or twenty years ago, the headline would have been

Pictured: Wife who was seated in the crowd ...

The construction, I believe, helps emphasise that the wife was one of hundreds (or thousands) of spectators in the bullfighting arena.

@terdon 2016-07-10 13:04:17

Hmm yes, also, perhaps, that she was sitting there helpless.

@Mari-Lou A 2016-07-10 13:06:49

@terdon yes, that's a good way of putting it.

@AmI 2016-07-09 20:17:47

"I'm sat" assumes that 'sat' is the passive participle of 'sit', which requires that 'sit' be a transitive verb. (In AmE, 'set' is transitive, but 'sit' is not.)

Since "I'm sat" is passive, it means that someone put you in a sitting position, but that someone was not necessarily you, yourself; whereas "I'm sitting" means that you 'sat' yourself.

@reinierpost 2018-03-10 06:11:29

This is certainly how I would interpret it, but judging by the question and other replies, a recent usage has developed where the connotation of having been put there is no longer present. Can that connotation still be present for those speakers?

@AmI 2018-03-12 20:40:45

I think the connotation is still present -- you were seated there by someone. What is unknown is whether the agent was yourself or someone else (and the corresponding changes to the meaning of 'to seat'). Language means whatever we [all] agree it to mean, so changes to grammar should not be made lightly.

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