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The wrapped present sits on the coffee table and Joy sits staring at it.

Could I replace the first "sits" with "is placed" or is that an action?

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Yes,it's an action, so you are changing the meaning a little bit.

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anonymous

The wrapped present sits on the coffee table, and Joy sits staring at it.

Could I replace the first "sits" with "is placed" or is that an action?

Depending on the shape of the present, you can use 'stands' or 'lies' (on the coffee table).

CJ