comprises, comprised of, is composed of, includes ...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Lizajoy, Aug 29, 2005.

  1. Lizajoy Senior Member

    US English

    I'm confused about these words. I thought "comprises" means "is composed of", or "consists of" and appears without the "of", but it's been suggested that it should be "comprises of" in the example below.

    I use as my reference my The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, which is of course AE. I'm wondering if "comprises of" is BE?

    The sentence in question is

    It's a translation from Spanish.


  2. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Hi Lizajoy,

    I've never seen or heard 'comprises of", however it's common to say that something with numerous parts "is comprised of".

    Example: The WordReference intergalatic empire is comprised of forums in many languages, including Castellano, English, and Benjois.

    Un saludo,

  3. Lizajoy Senior Member

    US English
    Thank you cuchuflete! I think so as well, but let's see if any BE speaker can confirm the correctness of "comprise" and the incorrectness of "comprise of".

  4. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    "Comprised of" is very common indeed, but many of the stuffy usage manuals prefer "comprise" the way it is used in your quoted sentence, when you mean "the whole comprises multiple parts."

    "Comprises of" just sounds awful.
  5. Lizajoy Senior Member

    US English
    Thank you Kelly B! Oh, how I concur! Will a BE speaker second (or third, or whatever) this verdict?

  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It's August Bank Holiday over here.
    All native BE-speakers are enjoying the sunshine.
    Well, nearly all. Now, what was the question again?
    .....comprises..... OK comprised of.....OK
    .....consists of....OK

    .....comprises of....... - Pleugghhhh:cross:

    There are, of course, reasons for using one or the other, but just for the moment I have no idea what those reasons might be.
    I might go away to see if I can find out.
    On the other hand, I might go back out to sit in the garden - if the wasps aren't too aggressive.

    PS. I don't really like "is comprised of", so I will look for a good reason to say it is questionable.
  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    The forum population of BE-speakers is comprised of sunbathing louts Ahhh, where was I...oh yes...It's absolutely time to add Pleugghhhh to the WR dictionaries. Here is the definition:

    Pleugghhhh intrj. Used to express disgust at the sound, texture, and smell of neologistic nonsense.

    comprises :tick:
    is comprised of:tick:
    is composed of :tick:
    consists of :tick:
    contains :tick:
    includes :tick:
  8. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    It is important to understand the use of a dictionary. It tells how language is used by people, not necessary what is proper or correct. What often happens is that a word is used incorrectly so often that eventually, that usage becomes an entry in the dictionary. A good example is the word jealous. Because it has been used incorrectly by so many to mean envious, that connotation (envious) is now in the dictionary.

    Ain't is a word that is found in most dictionaries. However, I'm quite sure that every native English speaker will agree that it is not good English and would highly advise you of not using it in any even remotely formal situation!

    Our organisation comprises 17 social entities providing services in 10 autonomous communities.

    That sentences uses comprise correctly. However (and a lot of people may disagree and become angry about this.....), many native English speakers do not use the word correctly, so quite frankly, you may not hear it used correctly much of the time.
  9. elanabean Member

    Quite possibly the best definition read today... Also can be used in reference to coworker emails who use the phrase "comprises of"
  10. Gordonedi

    Gordonedi Senior Member

    UK (Scotland) English
    I have now come in from enjoying what sunshine we have had in Scotland today (with very few wasps, thank goodness) and can do my duty as a BE speaker and add my vote to what has already been suggested.

    comprises :tick:
    is comprised of :tick:
    comprises of :cross:

    As has been said, that doesn't guarantee that we don't hear "comprises of" quite often, and how I pray that it won't make it into the dictionary through general usage !

  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I still have a squirmy discomfort about "is comprised of".
    However, the only black mark against it that I can find is that it is relatively new, having appeared first in around 1870.
    It's dreadful the way these neologisms make their way into the dictionaries :D

    Seriously, I am quite sure this is another personal thing, no more, and is probably related to the fact that there are two other perfectly good, and shorter, ways of saying the same thing: "comprises" and "consists of". I think my brain finds "is comprised of" just a little convoluted.

    Does anyone find a difference between comprises and consists of? Are there circumstances when one is preferred? I haven't any ideas about this - yet.
  12. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Hola Panj,

    I see little difference. I think it's just a matter of stylistic preference. "Comprises" is a little more formal sounding for my colonial ears. Both are fully inclusive (I love to sneak politikly kerrect phrases in;)).

  13. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    From Chicago Manual of Style:

    The phrase comprised of, though increasingly common, is poor usage. Instead use composed of or consisting of.
  14. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    If you are enumerating the parts of a whole, I think they are interchangeable. "Consists of" may also be used in a more descriptive fashion: "nearly one-third of US diet consists of junk food..." (an unfortunate example found in an idle google search for something that fit the idea in my head.)
  15. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    OK, I asked the wrong question.
    Unfortunately, I now have no idea what the right question was:eek: It may come back to me.

    BUT - I have found the reason for my squirmy feeling about " comprised of..."
    I quote here from The New Fowler's Modern English Usage - the Oxford edition. It's not that I am obsessive or anything, but I rather like the way the Oxford reference collection expresses things and besides they are all the same colour so I can easily find them on the shelf.

    Under comprise, the NFMEU lists a number of correct uses. I gloss over these (boring).

    It also lists a number of "erroneous uses".
    Amongst these:
    comprise of, used passively = be composed of, consist of, a relatively modern use, first recorded in 1874 [I LOVE this:cool: ]

    Mr Burchfield, the current custodian of NFMEU, then lists a series of examples of the erroneous form "... is comprised of ...".

    These include: "Many of these words are comprised of monemes (1964);
    "It is incorrect to say 'It was comprised of 20 students' - Burchfield"
    And it concludes with the comment:
    "Opposition to this last construction is also weakening"
    I knew there was something rotten about "... is comprised of ..."
    Now I find myself in good company with the lethal combination of modgirl and R W Burchfield
    Happy days:D
  16. Lizajoy Senior Member

    US English
    Oh thank you all! Thank you thank you!

    I shall use y'all's:D replies as evidence that my English (American) is not inherently inferior as has been suggested by the person reviewing my translations...who happens to be in Ireland. (panjandrum, yours goes at the top). This person has been "correcting" my translations without consulting the original Spanish source...

  17. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I don't know this Burchfield gent, but I take strong exception to your erroneous form in calling Modgirl 'lethal'. Your trio is comprised of the Holy trio of Burchfield, Modgirl, and his Ersewhile emminence Pandemonium, whose clan comprises sundry offspring, most noteworthy of which is WMPG, not to be confused with KPMG or any other accounting firm.

    Sadly, I must report that my preferred Fowling pieces for AE problem resolution are as foul as Fowler:

    Shaw, Harry, in Dict. of Probem words and expresions, says, "Use comprise when all parts are named or referred to and include when only some are. 'Comprised of' is a wordy expression. Omit the of."

    Evans and Evans, A Dict. of contemporary American usage is silent on the use of 'of', stating that, "Comprise and constitute should not be confused."

    I suppose they mean that Cuchuflete is sufficiently confused already and doesn't require further confusion.
  18. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I'm sorry, but I must vehemently disagree with all who advocate "comprised of" as correct English. Frankly, I'm quite surprised.

    The organization is comprised of 5 members :eek:

    is awful, completely incorrect, pompous, entirely ungrammatical English.

    It should be

    The organization comprises 5 members :D

    (this is not more elevated; it is the only correct usage of "comprise")


    The organization is composed of 5 members :D

    "Comprise" means "include, contain." Try substituting either of those for "comprise" in the original sentence.

    The organization is included of 5 members. :eek:
    The organization is contained of 5 members. :eek:

    Unfortunately, this is an all-too common, pervasive error - but that doesn't mean we should accept it. I think I mentioned in another post that it's my worst pet-peeve.

    How I loathe it! :)
  19. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    My hatred of the panoply of "comprise" words is purely stylistic. Elroy's rant comes close to doing it for me-- the expressions using "comprise" are all criminally stupid.

    Try is or has instead of these obscenely stupid pompous words, and 9 times out of 10 it will work fine, better, infinitely better.

    Include can be used whether all included items are named or not. I have spoken.
  20. elroy

    elroy Imperfect Mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Agreed! "Contains" is another normal, common alternative.

    But please - please - if you* are going to use "comprise" (which is your stylistic prerogative) - just don't say "comprised of"!!!

    *general "you" here
  21. Lizajoy Senior Member

    US English
    Hello all,

    I know it's been several days, and maybe you've had enough of this topic, but the "criminally stupid", etc. descriptions are bouncing around my brain.

    I absolutely agree. But as a translator, I cannot save anyone from sounding criminally stupid or obscene or pompous, I can only help to express that stupidity, etc. in another language...:D

    I'll confess, however, that "comprise" was not the exact word in the source text. It was something like "Seventeen social entities give life to this organisation...". :rolleyes: (I guess that almost sounds obscene):)

    "Comprised" was the best I could do...;)



    P.S. The text came back with "comprises" (without the "of"). There was no comment attached. :cool: Thanks to y'all!
  22. philipfang New Member

    He Knew The Difference
    After being discharged in 1962, Mr. De Bruhl moved to Manhattan and began a career in book publishing as a copy editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Two years later, he spotted an ad in The New York Times: "If you know the difference between 'comprise' and 'constitute,' call this number."
    He knew. He called, and landed a job at Crowell-Collier-Macmillan.

    Can anybody tell me what's the difference between 'comprise' and 'constitute'?
  23. buddingtranslator

    buddingtranslator Senior Member

    English, England
    Hi Philipfang and welcome to WR,

    It's not easy to explain the difference here. "Comprise" and "constitute" are practically synonyms that mean "to make up".

    For example, "This constitutes our entire wealth." In other words, what the person is indicating is that what he/she is pointing out "makes up" or "represents" their total amount of money.

    Another example: "The choir was comprised entirely of children." Here, we could also say "made up of".

    If there is any difference, to my mind "constitute" makes reference to the end total. "This constitutes all of our money". Whereas "comprise" refers more to the individual components that go into making the total. "The choir is comprised of children".

    Not sure if this is lucidly explained or even if it is at all correct but in general there is hardly any difference between these two words. I can only hope that it has helped you in some way.

    Kind regards,

  24. lanceb Member

    Cambridge,MA USA
    Well, let's check the dictionary:
    This is interesting. Of course, I didn't know this. Looks like buddingtranslator got it just right.

  25. philipfang New Member

    Thank you so much for giving me the explanations above. But I am still a little bit confused. Who can give me an example where "comprise" is ok but "constitute" is not? :)
  26. buddingtranslator

    buddingtranslator Senior Member

    English, England
    It's arguable that such an example exists because they are synonyms.
  27. lanceb Member

    Cambridge,MA USA
    Bacon, eggs and toast constitute a breakfast. [= Bacon, eggs and toast make a breakfast.]
    A breakfast is comprised of bacon, eggs and toast.[= The parts of a breakfast are bacon, eggs and toast.]

    The usage is different, but to me, as to buddingtranslator, the meaning is the same.

  28. philipfang New Member

    Actually I agree that there is not so much difference between the two words. I have this question because I came across the following passage:

    He Knew The Difference
    After being discharged in 1962, Mr. De Bruhl moved to Manhattan and began a career in book publishing as a copy editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Two years later, he spotted an ad in The New York Times: "If you know the difference between 'comprise' and 'constitute,' call this number."
    He knew. He called, and landed a job at Crowell-Collier-Macmillan.

    It seems that this is a very difficult question (at least if you wanted to work for the New York Times) so I am wondering if there is a clever answer. Who can help me?
  29. ElaineG

    ElaineG Senior Member

    Brooklyn NY
    Strictly strictly strictly speaking -- "constitute" and "comprise" are the inverse of one another.

    The strictest usage mavens would argue that the only correct use of comprises is:

    The breakfast comprises bacon, ham, and eggs.


    Bacon, ham, and eggs constitute a breakfast.

    But the "comprised of" usage illustrated by Lance is extremely common, and now acceptable most places (except possibly among NYT copy editors).
  30. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
  31. philipfang New Member

    Thajnk you all for your explanations! It's starting to get more interesting, and I would like to ask your opinion on the two following sentences:

    Asians comprise 60% of the world population.
    Asians constitute 60% of the world population.

    Are "comprise" and 'constitute" strictly and accurately used here?
    If yes then I suppose comprise and constitute make no difference, at least when used to express "making up a certain percentage". Am I right?
  32. lanceb Member

    Cambridge,MA USA
    Hey, thanks for the info ElaineG!

  33. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't think the comprise example is strict and accurate. Asians comprise Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Japanese ........ and other residents of Asia.
    The constitute example seems OK.
    Would "are" be acceptable:D
  34. Dimitri Lee Member

    Chinese, Taiwan
    1."A machine comprises a part A, a part B, and a part C."

    2."A machine includes a part A, a part B, and a part C."

    3."A machine has a part A, a part B, and a part C."

    4."A machine contains a part A, a part B, and a part C."

    What's the difference between these sentences? or are they different?
  35. Tsoman Banned

    New York
    English -- US
    To me they mean the same, however when you use "comprise" I think the most common and best way to say it is in the passive form.

    ex "the machine is comprised of part A, part B and part C."
  36. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    All these mean pretty much the same thing except for "comprise."

    "Comprise" means " to consist of," "to be made up of."

    "The country comprises twenty states."

    "Include" has a broader meaning than "comprise." If you say "The house comprises three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a den," this implies that there are no rooms other than those listed. If you say, "The house includes . . ." it implies that there may be other things not specifically mentioned.
  37. maxiogee Banned

    To me, "comprise" means that there are no other parts.
    Only you can decide if this is appropriate word in this instance.
    If 'comprise' is suitable, I would probably prefer to use the expression "consists of a Part A, a Part B and a Part C"
    Otherwise I would tend towards "has".

    I am imagining that this listing of parts is introductory to explaining something which the user or service engineer needs to know about the proper use/servicing of the machine. For this purpose I prefer "consists of" or "has".

    "Includes" would tend to downplay the importance of the named parts, and "contains" implies that they cannot be got at by the user/service engineer.
  38. Kevman Senior Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    USA English
    Be careful with comprise--even native English speakers often use it incorrectly!

    As rsweet and Tony describe, comprises in the active voice corresponds with is composed of in the passive voice.
    The US comprises 50 states.
    The US is composed of 50 states.

    is comprised of is technically an inaccurate usage, but it is becoming so common that I'm afraid the word is starting to take on the meaning of compose as well. This is too bad, since the word compose is perfectly nice and already exists!
    But unfortunately there isn't a whole lot I can do about it. :rolleyes:
  39. Dimitri Lee Member

    Chinese, Taiwan
    Thanks for all your responses. I am tryng to figure out the differences among them because I am writing a specification of a machine, and I want it to be as precise as it can be. Thanks a lot!
  40. nelliot53

    nelliot53 Senior Member

    Puerto Rico
    Spanish-[PR]; English-[US]

    I am all for "consists of", as it seems to be a listing of parts.
  41. suzzzenn Senior Member

    New York
    USA English
    I think option number three is the clearest.
  42. Dimitri Lee Member

    Chinese, Taiwan
    Thanks again for all your answers. And another question: would your answer still be the same if what I am writing is a legal document?
  43. LMorland

    LMorland Senior Member

    American living in France.
    American English
    Greetings, English forum members!

    Recently a discussion arose on the French-English forum that is more properly discussed here. I'm talking about the tendency to confuse "comprise" and "compose," as in the phrase "comprised of :cross:"

    Another member noted that I had "identified a point of current debate in English. Some people accept this usage; others do not. The contention is even noted in the dictionary: see here ( for a quick and accessible summary of the issue."

    However, I would argue (and another member stated that it is the case in EE) that the usage is simply wrong. Merriam-Webster are not giving a linguistic defense of this usage; they're simply noting a bad usage that has crept into modern parlance.

    What think you all?
  44. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English
    Since language is used for communication, if enough people use a word to mean a particular thing, it does in fact mean that thing. Usage determines meaning.

    This does not happen in every field, in Mathematics, if many people mistakenly thought that 2 + 3 = 6, that would not make it so. That would merely be an example of many people being wrong.

    EDIT: I don't like new uses for words with perfectly good old uses (unless I do).
  45. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    Let's look at the two examples given:

    1. "a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation." - William Styron

    2. "about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women." - Jimmy Carter

    For some reason I find I don't mind 1, but dislike 2. I'd have the President say about 8 percent of our military forces are women. I don't like are composed of women much either, but don't mind it deeply.

    Interesting that I'm happy with comprise in an active but not in a passive sense. I wonder if anyone will agree.
  46. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Today's question on this animating topic has been added to the previous thread. It's worth reading over the discussion.
  47. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Is it incorrect, or does it just disturb some prescriptivists who haven't done a good job of understanding the history of usage?

    Oxford Shorter English Dictionary, Third Edition, 1944:

    3. To include, embrace; to comprehend compendiously ME.
    4. To contain, consist of 1481. to extend to, cover 1541.
    The house comprises box-room, nine bed-rooms, etc. (Mod. Advt.).

    Obviously this is not a new use of the word. What, precisely, is the objection of those who
    would label it 'incorrect'? Calling it "a bad usage" is a matter of personal stylistic opinion.

    Random House Unabridged:

    There is a difference between "I personally don't care for it" and "It is a bad usage".
  48. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English
    If your usage of comprise is from some boilerplate text, that is always worded a particular way and includes the word comprise, then I think you should use it since you would have the benefit of precident in the interpretation of the wording.

    I have seen comprise in several legal documents, so I guess many who write them are unafraid of being misunderstood.

    Because comprise has more than one accepted use, if your context cannot clearly separate the two uses, I would choose a substitute.

    The previous point is especially true if you are writing manuals, even if your use is perfectly correct, but confusing, you've failed in your job.

    Would you use the term bi-weekly in a legal document? Would it mean two times per week or once every two weeks. Why borrow trouble?
  49. broglet

    broglet Senior Member

    English - England
    I entirely agree. In the UK, people who are ignorant and/or ill-educated freqently use "is comprised of" instead of "comprises". It is a solecism particularly loved by estate agents: "The house is comprised of 4 bedroom's, etc ..." To my ear/eye it is no less dreadful than the misuse of the apostrophe.
    And it is made worse by the fact that those who misuse the word are typically trying to use what they regard as a 'posh' word to make themselves sound cleverer than they really are. And it doesn't half backfire! They would sound a lot cleverer if they wrote, "The house has 4 bedrooms ..."
    By the way, to those who say that if sufficient people make the same linguistic blunder, that's fine, that it simply becomes part of the language, I would respond that, if the majority of well-educated people do not make that error, then the only language it becomes part of is the language of the ill-educated.
  50. RolandLavengro Member

    British English
    It may depend on which form of English or which dictionary one is using. Oxford English is generally considered to be the most 'correct' in terms of grammar and usage. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) has a number of definitions for comprise. One of these is "to consist of" - in which case, if one writes "to comprise of" in that sense, one is writing "to consist of of". Yes, this does appear to be on the increase. Language has always developed organically, sometimes helpfully, sometimes not. Superfluous prepositions can be irritable (to rise up, to enter in), but communication is a mutual process - my humble advice is to provide the other party with the mimimum strain in comprehending. If you are not sure of a meaning or use, and you are not sure if the listener/s or reader/s may not be either, then go for something simpler and clearer. That is only polite.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2008

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