Good old “comprise” again

rogersgeorge on September 29th, 2012

The compose, comprise, composed of, comprised of choice is among the trickiest set of words to get right in English. Actually, people usually get compose and composed of correct. It’s comprise that makes people stumble.

Remember: Compose refers to multiple things combining into a single thing. Twenty-six letters compose our alphabet. Or if you reverse it, the alphabet is composed of 26 letters.

Comprise goes the other way. The English alphabet, comprising 26 letters,… and we don’t say “is comprised of.” Ever. Harrumpf. Saying “comprised of” is a pretentiousism.

Here’s an article in the eWeek online newsletter that has it right:

Shipping and postage-related terms made up over 26 percent of words featured in malicious file names, and comprised 7 of the 10 most common words identified in the first half of 2012.

See? That wasn’t so hard. The terms (admittedly a plural) comprise seven items.  They do it again, and almost get it right a sentence or two later. I think their proofreader wasn’t paying attention:

By far, .zip files were the most common malicious attachments seen by FireEye, compromising 76.91 percent of the file extensions used by attackers. Next on the list were PDF files, which accounted for 11.79 percent.

Oops! The meant to say comprising, but compromising got through the spell checker. Bad proofreader!

By the way, a nice touch in the article (if you ignore the mistaken word) is that they avoided repetition by using synonyms: “made up,” “comprised,” “identified,” “were seen,” and “accounted for.” In editorial writing in English, this is considered good form. It makes the article a more interesting read.

In case you don’t know, here’s what malware looks like:

My thanks to The Bank of Malware for letting me show their logo

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