Grammar Minute #2: Comprised vs. Composed

This one frustrates me, because it’s so often used incorrectly. Comprise means to contain or consist of. A whole comprises its parts; the U.S.A comprises 50 states. In effect, comprise is a synonym of “is composed of.” A thing is not “comprised of” its parts.

Correct: “The proposal comprises three sections.” Correct: “The proposal is composed of three sections.” Bloody Wrong: “The proposal is comprised of three sections.”

Again, the whole comprises the parts. Parts compose a whole. Comprise = Is composed of.

Now, if you look in some dictionaries, you will see “comprised of” listed as an idiom. Idioms are considered dialects, and often spring from incorrect usage. In effect, it’s something people say wrong for so long, others know what it means. However, in formal writing, “comprised of” is still wrong, and people will snicker at you behind your back.

You don’t want that, do you?

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6 thoughts on “Grammar Minute #2: Comprised vs. Composed

  1. Got it: strike “comprised of” going forward. But a question: When does usage become the rule? As you noted, this happens with great regularity and some dictionaries have “comprised of” as an idiom. If many writers/speakers are using it and readers/listeners understand the meaning, when does it make the switch from idiom to permissible usage?

    1. Sorry, I never saw this comment before. (growl) I think usage becomes “acceptable” when scholars realize that most people get it wrong. However, I think it becomes kind of a colloquialism. It’s okay in normal writing, but I’d refrain from it in any professional or scholarly writing. Readers will think you don’t know better.

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