How to Use Comprise

This week I saw not one, but two (gasp!) misuses of the word comprise; therefore comprise is this week’s Pearl of Wisdom. Let us begin with the completely, utterly, and totally incorrect. Do not ever write “is comprised of.”

So, what is the proper use of the word comprise? The DLMC practice comprises Dispute Consulting and Legal Management Consulting. In other words, the whole comprises the parts; comprise is another way of saying, ” is made up of” or “consists of.” Another example is The United States comprises fifty states.

What you do not want to say is that the parts comprise the whole, e.g., fifty states comprise the U.S.A. You would not say fifty states is made up of the U.S.A., so do not say fifty states comprise the U.S.A.

What should you write in such a case? I prefer the word compose. It is perfectly fine to write three separate branches of government compose the federal government. Switch that around, and you might also write the federal government comprises three separate branches.

To sum up: the whole comprises the parts, and the the parts compose the whole.

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