Comprise, Compose, and the Little Word “Of”
- On March 17, 2015
What is off in these three sentences?
- Even though his country is atop the leaderboard, Russian President Vladimir Putin implied that his hockey team is comprised of cowards.
- Occidental is comprised of three distinct brands: Allegro, Grand and Royal Hideaway.
- Our universe is comprised of 400 pension plans and investment managers and more than $7 trillion in global trades.
If you pointed to the word of that follows comprised, you are correct. Comprise means to consist of, be made up of, include, or contain, making the word of redundant or silly-sounding. (Would you say contain of?)
In these three sentences, comprise is used correctly:
- Under the terms of the G.E. bid, Alstom would sell its energy business, which comprises [read consists of] roughly 70 percent of the company’s operations.
- After months of wondering whether Carole King would ever come to see the Broadway musical based on her life and comprising [read including] her music, the singer/songwriter surprised the cast and crew by attending Thursday evening’s performance.
- Boys & Girls Harbor comprises [read is made up of] preschool and after-school programs, and a performing-arts conservatory.
The word of aside (in the first set of sentences), all six sentences use comprise correctly in the following sense: The whole comprises the parts. So the universe comprises the plans, managers, and trades; Putin’s hockey team comprises the cowards; Carole King’s Broadway life story comprises her music; and so on.
Some people get comprise and compose mixed up—with good reason. First, when you use the word compose (not the phrase composed of, which I’ll get to next), you start with the parts and go to the whole, for example, “Fifty states and one federal district compose our nation.” In everyday business communication, you likely won’t have much use for compose in this sense. If you wanted to use comprise instead, you’d have to flip the sentence: Our nation comprises fifty states and one federal district. The whole, then the parts.
Now for composed of—which can be a synonym for comprise. While the phrase comprised of is incorrect usage, composed of is fine—and you’re likely to use it a lot.
- Our nation is composed of fifty states and one federal district.
- About 18,000 people buy tickets each year to attend the festival, which is composed of 50 or so events.
- The team is composed of Hugo Vela, a copywriter and Diego Machado, an art director.
My recommendation is to always go for the simplest word or phrase that conveys your meaning. Composed of is more straightforward than comprise—and made up of is even more so. You could have used made up of in all three sentences and sounded polished and professional.
Sometimes the super simple has or have is all you need, which is what I thought when I happened on the following sentence, “The Lasnet family already comprises four children.”
Let’s just say, “The Lasnets already have four children” and leave it at that.