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Comprise vs. Compose

  • Comprise means “to include” or “to be composed of.” A basketball team comprises five players.
  • Comprise is often misused for compose. It’s common for speakers to say that a basketball team “is comprised of five players” instead of “is composed of five players.”
  • If you want to be completely safe from criticism, you should use composed of and not comprised of.

Comprise is a verb that’s currently undergoing a shift in usage. Language commentators have spilled a lot of ink condemning the use of “comprised of,” but it appears that the construction is on its way to becoming standard. Still, there are plenty of people out there who don’t accept it yet. If you’re a writer who takes pride in precise and correct use of language, or if you need to be absolutely sure no one will object to the way you use comprise, here’s what you need to know.

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Difference between Comprise and Compose

Definition of the Verb Comprise

Comprise is a verb that means “to be composed of.” This is the usage that everyone accepts as standard and correct:

A computer comprises a motherboard, a processor, and some memory sticks.

A whole (the computer, in the example above) comprises its parts (motherboard, processor, memory sticks). Comprise is synonymous with with include, contain, consist of, encompass, and be made up of.

Comprise vs. Compose

Very often, writers and speakers use comprise to describe things the other way around. Look at the following sentence:

A computer is comprised of a motherboard, a processor, and some memory sticks.

The word you want is composed:

A computer is composed of a motherboard, a processor, and some memory sticks.

Use of comprised of has become so widespread and common that it’s gained some level of acceptance. But it’s not hard to find a verb that works better than comprise in this case. The verb compose is a good candidate because it tells us that the parts join to create a whole.

So, if you want to be completely sure that you’re using the verb comprise in a way that everyone will deem correct, use it to describe how a whole contains parts. To say it the other way around, how parts come together to create a whole, use the verb compose.

Examples of Comprise and Compose

The miniseries will comprise three hour-long episodes.

The group that is composed of 28 million business owners is a major voting block in the upcoming election.

One was composed of three rotaxanes whose rings were connected to form a larger platform that could rise 0.7 billionths of a meter: a molecular elevator.

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