Compose and Comprise

rogersgeorge on April 24th, 2017

I’ve been posting things that people get wrong a lot lately, and here’s another one, that someone (the folks at This Day in History) almost got right! They seem to know the way most people get this wrong, and they avoid that: NEVER use “is comprised of”! That’s a pretentiousism. (You may say “is composed of” when appropriate. See the last rule below.)

The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.

But they still got it backwards. Here are the rules:

Use comprise when you start with the whole thing and then mention its parts. It means “is made up of.”

Use compose when you start with the parts (winning teams) and then say what they make (The Final Four). You may use “is composed of” if you have a need to put the whole thing first and the parts second and you don’t want to use comprise. So, “The ‘Final Four’ is composed of the winning teams from each region” is correct.


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Somebody else gets “Comprise” Right

rogersgeorge on July 13th, 2016

First, in case you haven’t already read it on these pages, the rule is “Never say ‘is comprised of.’” That’s a big fat pretentiousism. Comprise means, in effect, “is composed of.” Saying “is composed of of” is nonsense.

Second, I’ve mentioned before that cartoonists tend to be pretty good at English, and I like to use them as good examples. Here’s an example of a cartoonist getting it right:

Each year’s Eisner judging panel comprises completely different people, and I had no reason to hope that this year’s panel would feel the same about my work as last year’s did.

See that? His use of “comprise” is absolutely correct. By the way, here’s another grammatical subtlety: the last phrase (…as last year’s did) has a possessive adjective but no noun! Last year’s what did? That’s not a goof, it’s an ellipsis. He left out “panel” because you can tell from the parallel structure that he’s talking about another panel. High-quality adult-level writing.

Third, I have an ulterior motive for mentioning this example. I stumbled onto a comic that I recommend to you all. It’s called The Last Mechanical Monster, by Brian Fies. It continues the story of a really old Superman animated short—it’s about what happens after the bad guy gets out of jail, aged 99. Don’t follow the link unless you have some time to read; it’s a real page-turner. The quote, by the way, is toward the bottom of page 160 in the comments.

Good ol’ comprise. Again.

rogersgeorge on December 12th, 2013

Correct use of “comprise” is one of my hobby-horses; I recently found a couple examples of it being used correctly, so I decided it’s time to have a repeat lesson.

Shall I tell you why people get “comprise” wrong? Because they want to sound educated. In other words, they’re being pretentious. It’s the same thing that leads people to say “prior” when they mean “before,” and Latinize the plural of “process” into “processese.” Artificial fancy usages are pretentiousisms.  “Is composed of” sounds so mundane, they have to class it up with a fancier word. Trouble is, they get it wrong.

“Comprise” means “is composed of,” which is a passive construction. You want to avoid using the passive when you can, so “comprise” is a handy alternative.

 A hybrid eclipse comprises a total solar eclipse and an ‘annular eclipse’, depending on an observer’s viewing location on Earth.

Four of the five remaining Santa Cruz cypress habitats are now parklands or ecological reserves. The population comprises a healthy 33,000 trees or more, so the fws [Fish and Wildlife Service] has proposed reclassifying the species as merely “threatened.”

You can find the first quote at and the second quote at

Rule of thumb: Start with the single, big thing, then comprise, then more than one smaller thing. So, Hybrid eclipse comprises total and annular. Now you do the second one for practice. Be clear, not pretentious.

Some more small mistakes

rogersgeorge on January 17th, 2012

These are some items that have been piling up in my solecism folder. I use the term “small mistakes” advisedly. You shouldn’t make any of them.

  • Lego has no plural. The company that owns the word says always to use the singular; never say “Legos.” It’s their football, they make the rules.
  • Prescribe means you must; proscribe means you must not.
  • Eager means looking to the future with happiness; anxious means looking to the future with fear. You should be eager, not anxious, to meet up with your girlfriend.
  • Imply means to suggest; infer means to guess. Okay, an educated guess.
  • Compose goes from the parts to the whole; comprise goes from the whole to the parts. Thirteen colonies composed the early USA; the early USA comprised 13 colonies. Never say “is comprised of.”
  • Who is for people; that is for things. I am the one who tells you about grammar. A computer screen is a thing that you look at.
  • Affect is a verb; effect is a noun. Yes, I know about the exceptions. If you do too, you don’t need to be told about this mistake anyway. A mistake has the effect of making the person seem careless, but it won’t affect me.

That’ll do for now, class. Go and sin no more. Wait! Here’s a test. See if you can tell which picture goes with which word. These words are fairly abstract, and my picture choices are subjective, so if you can defend your choice, count it as correct. I also don’t guarantee that all the words are represented, or that each picture represents only one word.

Click for full size

Maybe one of you WordPress gurus can tell me how to make these pictures go side by side.