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Comprise versus compose

Posted by Wendy Wood on 26th August , 2020 in Grammar
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Watching the news last week, I heard the newscaster say something was “comprised of” something else. What he should have said is that it was “composed of” something. Comprise and compose have similar meanings, so it’s easy to make this mistake. Let’s take a look at their definitions.

comprise: verb. 1. to comprehend; include; contain.
2. to consist of; be composed of.
3. to combine to make up.

compose:  verb. 1. to make or form by uniting parts or elements.
2. to be the parts or elements of.
3. to make up; constitute.

So, why can’t we use “comprised of”? Well, because I said so! Actually, it’s because Macquarie Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style say so. They both consider “comprised of” to be nonstandard usage. Their argument against the phrase is based on the definitions above.

If we hold comprise to the definition “to include,” then “comprised of” sounds awkward. The puzzle is comprised of 500 pieces doesn’t sound too bad. But the puzzle is included of 500 pieces sounds nonsensical. You could say instead that the puzzle comprises 500 pieces or the puzzle is composed of 500 pieces.

Traditional usage is that the whole comprises the parts, the parts compose the whole, and the whole is composed of the parts. Never, ever, use comprised of.

Wendy Wood



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