Compose and Comprise

Bumpy Road Ahead Header
OK, folks — fasten your seat belts! It’s gonna be a bumpy ride here. I’m about to take away a favorite phrase you may be writing or saying, one you probably have never given any real thought to. You may be among the many writers who misunderstand and misuse comprise, using it when they should be using compose.

Nah, not me, you’re thinking . . . right? You’re sure you know how to use them, right? OK, so let’s try this. Are any of these three sentences below correctly written?

  1. The company is comprised of four divisions.
  2. The company is composed of four divisions.
  3. The company comprises four divisions.

Which one(s)? I’m deliberately leaving extra space after this sentence so you can think before you see the answers.




Ready for the answers?

If you chose #2 and #3, congratulations! You know how to use comprise and compose / comprised and composed correctly!

But if you really thought that #1 is right, stay tuned. I’ll smooth out the road for you and show you why it’s wrong.

Let’s start with compose, which is usually used correctly.

From Webster’s Dictionary: compose means

  1. to form in combination; make up; constitute
  2. to put together; put in proper order or form
  3. to create (a musical or literary work)
  4. to adjust or settle; reconcile
  5. to put (oneself, one’s mind, etc.) in a state of tranquility or repose; calm

OK so far?

Now let’s take a peek at comprise, which means

  1. to include; contain; to consist of


If we realize that comprise means includes or contains, or consists of, we can see how wrong is in sentence #1 above.

Would we ever really write or say
“The company is contained of four divisions”?
“The company is included of four divisions”?
“The company is consisted of four divisions”?

No, I don’t think so. Actually, I know we wouldn’t. Once we understand what the true definition of comprise is, we can make the right choice.

YES: The company comprises (contains, includes, consists of) four divisions.
YES: The company is composed of (is made up of) four divisions.

The phrase “is comprised of” cannot be used.
It’s just plain wrong.

Just substitute “is composed of” every time your fingers try to type “is comprised of,” and you’ll be able to go on a nice, long, smooth ride with no speed bumps to slow you down as you write.

Has this helped? Can you remember which phrase to never, ever use again? Can you see why?

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