Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Commonly Misused Words: Comprise

Kelly posted this comment on our Facebook wall:
My biggest pet peeve: improper use of "comprise/comprised." When i see it used properly, I actually get excited, and every time it's used incorrectly, a little piece of my soul dies.
What people say: is comprised of; are comprised of

Standard usaage: comprises; comprise

Comprise (v.) - to contain; to include

When used properly, comprise can be used interchangeably with 'contain' or 'include'. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, "It is best used only in the active voice, followed by a direct object: The United States comprises 50 states. The jury comprises five men and seven women. The zoo comprises many animals."

Note that it's essential to go from large to small. The zoo comprises the animals, not the other way around.


From The Denver Post:
Formed in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, the quartet today comprises violinists Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist András Fejér.
From The New York Times:
In all, the exhibition comprises 27 works.
From The Washington Post:
AdMaster tracks a micro blog group on Sina Weibo under the avatar "Fresh Salarymen" that comprises thousands of white-collar workers, all of whom are younger than 30.
So what's Kelly talking about? You can't get through a day without hearing comprised used as a participle, as in: Springfield High School is comprised of 80 classrooms.

Copy editors and grammar hounds point out that is comprised of is not standard usage. Yet nobody can argue that it's not ubiquitous, even in the media (presumably where copy editors are absent or asleep at the wheel).


From "The Buzz" blog at The Washington Post:
The bulk of the book is comprised of so-called case studies, in which she applies her style “truths” — not fashion “rules” — to help nine women transform their looks.
From The Seattle Times:
Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the holy book of the Sikhs and is comprised of poems and songs written by former Gurus and saints.
My take is that this is yet another example of our ever-evolving language, and we're heading quickly toward the day when most grammarians will accept either comprise or is comprised of.

But until then, use comprise in the active voice.


  1. I'm not meaning to be argumentative - just curious - any idea WHY this is only used in the active voice? I'd appreciate any insights : ) Thanks.

    1. Because given it's meaning, it doesn't make sense any other way.

    2. Another pet peeve. Your comment should read "Because given its meaning". "Its" is a possessive pronoun, like "hers" and "his" and thus takes no apostrophe.

  2. usaage? We abuse our words and you help us with that but how about ensuring your website does not contain errors?

    1. Like starting a sentence with lower case?

  3. Yeah i also agree that these words are used by misunderstanding so we must correct them. The article rewriting service will lead a best tool for your article and also error free.

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  5. Heaven forbid 'comprise' should go the way of 'literally' and lose all meaning forever.

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