A piece came across MRP’s desk last week with a pair of examples of the common misuse of comprise where compose would be correct:
- The sample was . . . comprised of 50 10th grade sections.
- The team . . . was comprised of educators, policy analysts, education decision makers, and researchers and consultants.
Bill Walsh explains, “Nothing is ever ‘comprised of’ something. To comprise means ‘to contain or to embrace.'” AP Stylebook states, “Compose means to create or put together. It is commonly used in both the active and passive voices. . . . Comprise means to contain, to include all or embrace. It is best used only in the active voice.”
For example, to use comprise correctly, “The Mole’s book collection comprises several novels by Terry Pratchett, a first edition of Dune, and a worn copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” To use compose correctly, “The Mole’s book collection is composed of several novels by Terry Pratchett, a first edition of Dune, and a worn copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
At times like these, I like to end with the gentle wisdom of H.W. Fowler, who says sweetly, “This lamentably common use of comprise as a synonym for compose or constitute is a wanton and indefensible weakening of our vocabulary.”