Comprised v. Is Comprised Of

I’ve always run into those blow-hard [tag]editors, copyeditors and proofreaders[/tag] who insisted that comprise be used in the active sense, meaning "to include."

Hence, one could write, "The program comprises dieting, exercise, and yoga." One could not write this in the passive voice, "The program is comprised of dieting, exercise, and yoga," which is the way I always used the verb.

 Now,"blow-hard central" had a point in the sense that I never recognized comprise as a transitive verb that took objects, but I’m not sure they were right about not using "is comprised of."

Now to the rescue comes Common Errors in English, which has a solution–use "is composed of" instead, but that doesn’t quite, to me at least, convey the same meaning as "is comprised of."

Whatever, the blow-hards are always right.  Blow-hards rule just about everywhere, don’t they?  But they’re not always right!

41 thoughts on “Comprised v. Is Comprised Of

  1. Penelope says:

    Why do you insist on treating the word “comprise” any differently than any other verb in passive or active voice? You cannot use the same subject interchangeably for active and passive voice. The subject of a passive voice sentence is an object in an active voice sentence with the same meaning. If you would take the time to look at active and passive voice more closely, as well as the definition of “comprise,” you would see this. the word means “to encompass.” Therefore, the sentences “The world encompasses many nations” and “The world is encompassed by many nations” do not mean the same thing. The second sentence makes no sense, even though you want very much for it to make sense. But this is no different than any other verb. The object of an active voice becomes the subject in passive voice. Plain and simple. The whole comprises the parts. The parts are comprised by the whole. Active voice. Passive voice. Very simple.

    • Michael Kelley says:

      “Synonymous” is not “equivocal.” “Comprised” is very much akin to a contronym in that it can mean either “encompassing” or “encompassed.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Different *from*

    • NCristina Martorana says:

      Except that some cases are not that simple. For example, one can say either “The scale comprises 5 parts,” or “The scale is comprised of 5 parts.” Websters’ first example for COMPRISE reads: “The Soviet Union comprised several socialist republics,” which could also read: “The Soviet Union is comprised of several socialist republics.”

  2. grammarblogger says:

    Penelope, good point. The world is actually encompassed by much outer space.

  3. Jack says:

    From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

    The city’s population is largely comprised of Asians and Europeans.

    How about that?

  4. grammarblogger says:

    Looks good to me, Jack. That’s the way I always used to construct things.

  5. Jack says:

    Yes, that’s correct but Penelope wrote that “be comprise of” isn’t the same as “comprise”. But it is.
    You can say both:
    The city’s population is comprised of Asians and Europeans.
    and
    The city’s population comprises Asians and Europeans.
    Both sentences have the same meaning.

  6. grammarblogger says:

    However, “is comprised of” is the passive voice, which is probably why many say not to use it.

  7. purist says:

    Dictionaries will usually tell you that both of these forms are currently in usage. But Penelope makes a very good point in that, if both of these usages are allowed, then “comprise” is a very special word. You can’t treat the passive voice of comprise in the same way you can treat the passive voice of, say, “compose.”

    I can say:
    A water molecule is composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
    or
    Hydrogen and oxygen atoms compose a water molecule.

    Subject and object switch places, as is proper. But with “comprise” in its oldest usage:
    A water molecule comprises hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
    or
    Hydrogen and oxygen atoms are comprised by a water molecule.

    By allowing the alternate usage, changing the preposition reverses the relationship:
    A water molecule is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

    It would appear that this last usage was just an error in usage, confusing “compose” and “comprise.” Because the usage of “comprise” is itself confused and limited by allowing the “is comprised of” usage, I advocate avoiding the latter. The latter usage cannot be put into active voice without changing the actual meaning of the word or using a different word entirely. That makes it a degenerate colloquialism that detracts from the word rather than employing it fully.

  8. Karen says:

    Never, ever use “comprised of”. Comprise means “to include”, so if you say, “The city’s population is largely comprised of Asians and Europeans,” you’re really saying, “The city’s population is largely included of Asians and Europeans.” What you REALLY want to say is, “The city’s population is composed of Asians and Europeans” OR “The city’s population comprises Asians and Europeans.”

  9. Karen says:

    composed of = made up of
    comprise = include

    • Grammar Guy says:

      You’re getting a little carried away here and creating nonexistent straitjackets. Comprise also means contain and compose as well as include; the three meanings are equal and not mutually exclusive. So it’s perfectly okay to use comprise in either the active or passive sense, to wit: “The state comprises six counties.” “The state is comprised of six counties.” The dictionary actually specifies that both constructions are fine.

      • Jeremy Cairns-Todd says:

        I think he/she was getting confused between the correct ‘comprised of’ to the incorrect ‘comprises of’ (it should just be comprises)

  10. Alan Mackenzie says:

    While I feel that it is possible to say both “The city’s population is comprised of Asians and Europeans”
    and “The city’s population comprises Asians and Europeans,” I have the sort of intuitive usage sense that there is a shade of difference in the meaning, whereby the sentence that omits the “of” has a higher proportion of only Asians and Europeans, with essentially no Americans, Africans or Oceanics, while (whilst ha ha ha) the “of” has a slightly higher but still small minority of other-continentals. So both sentences have the same meaning, almost. But (hee hee) I think this is a subjective, nuanced, almost silly distinction. So I omit “of” with the past tense usage, and use it in the present. Oh, how horribly illogical and non-conformist!!!!

  11. Alan Mackenzie says:

    By the way I observe your date format to be DD-MM-YYYY but I really think YYYYMMDD is MUCH cuter because it much more computer friendly. I suggest this proactive political correctness toward the future emergent intelligence on our glorious planet. Humpfff. 20100109, not 09-01-2010 !

    • Blanche says:

      Ah, but 09-01-2010 typically means “September 1, 2010”, NOT 9 January, 2010, per the conventional way it’s written out! I have never dated my checks DDMMYYYY, always MMDDYYYY instead.

      • CST says:

        What is “typical” is highly relative. Growing up in the US, I was taught to use MMDDYYYY. While living in Japan I exclusively used YYYYMMDD. Living in Germany, I use DDMMYYY. It really depends on how society chooses to formulate dates.

  12. Questionable Ethics says:

    When in doubt, the synonym test always help. Comprise and comprehend derive from the exact same Latin word, and are, in fact, synonyms.

    I comprehend grammar.
    I am comprehended of grammar.

    The later simply doesn’t make sense, and neither does “comprised of.”

  13. Gareth says:

    What’s interesting about Jack and Grammarblogger is that regardless of whether they’re right or wrong – and I believe they are mistaken in this – their logic is overtly flawed.
    They agreed that “The city’s population is comprised of Asians and Europeans.
    and
    The city’s population comprises Asians and Europeans.” had the same meaning whereas they had failed to swap Subject and Object.
    Man bites dog cannot be the same as Man is bitten by dog.
    In any case, you wouldn’t say anything was included of, would you..

    • Mark Plimsoll says:

      I find the arguments for maintaining the original usage to be a compelling and superior to well, most people are now using comprised in the passive. I find references to the Longmont dictionary amusing. I’ve been to Longmont. Also, making up words to defend one’s position is the height of psuedo-intellectualism. We are not defending popular usage here, but usage in something people may read. I’d say the Oxford errs in this case in bending on the issue, if slightly. I also agree that if you wish to be pretentious and use “comprise” you are behooved to get it right. (Yes, there are several jokes in there.)

      Bottom line, I am not going to flag what strikes me as an error on the grounds that what was once pretension is now common usage, like everything else these days. Thanks, all for the discussion and insight.

  14. Duh ness says:

    “is comprised of” has found its way into popular usage for the same reason that “between you and I” has: people wanting (and failing) to sound intelligent. So this is “between you and me”: if you are trying to sound intelligent, just say that your stupid damn whole “consists of” your stupid dumb parts or let the whole actively “comprise” the parts, no matter what your stupid dictionaries or fake news anchors say. If you are not trying to sound intelligent, why even stick your neck out for “comprise” in the first place? Just say “is made up of” or “is composed of” or whatever. Simple logic, people: Know your place.

    • Bernadette says:

      “I feel badly” is another example of this. trying to sound proper but not understanding the underlying grammar logic of certain constructions.

  15. Peter says:

    With respect to is it “comprised” or “comprised of” there is also the matter of tense. I would like to know whether it is correct to say “The old fleet comprised of 27 ships” or “The old fleet comprised 27 ships” or “The old fleet was comprised of 27 ships”.

  16. Eehlex says:

    Agreed, Mr Mackenzie – I was hoping I wasn’t the only one to ‘feel’ that particular distinction between the two sentences. Are we right, though? How much does it matter when most of the population can’t seem to distinguish between ‘it’s’ and ‘its’?

  17. Eiríkr Útlendi says:

    I note that many people above take umbrage at the “is comprised of” construction, claiming that it is somehow un-English, or that the subject-object agreement is somehow broken.

    I’d like to call readers’ attention to older English usage, such as “is possessed of”, that uses the same kind of construction.

    I possess knowledge of English.
    I am possessed of knowledge of English.

    Both are valid, both are grammatical, both express the same ideas. See also Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, wherein we find the lines:

    —–
    MARIA: … If I do not gull him into a nayword and make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed. I know I can do it.

    SIR TOBY BELCH: Possess us, possess us, tell us something of him.
    —–

    The “possess us” construction here isn’t a request that Maria take ownership of Sir Toby et al, but rather a kind of causative — a request that Maria *make* Sir Toby et al *possess* the knowledge of her plan and Malvolio’s character, to take them into her confidence. The construction “X is possessed of Y” could be parsed as a passive-causative construction, much as “X is comprised of Y” could be similarly so parsed — providing another way of avoiding the subject-object confusion decried by others in this thread.

    Merriam-Webster’s entry at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comprise lists this exact construction “X is comprised of Y”, with an extensive usage note:

    —–
    Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 [including the sample usage of “X is comprised of Y”] is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as “compose” or “make up”.
    —–

    TL;DR:

    “X is comprised of Y” is well-established usage. The arguments against this construction appear to be based on purely stylistic or preferential grounds.

    • TheNightowl says:

      I agree with Eiríkr Útlendi. This is well established usage. As far as “treating it like no other verb,” as I’ve seen several people argue, we have a number of irregular verbs in the English Language. I’m fine with accepting “comprise” as one of those and ignoring the entire argument henceforth.

      DT

    • Joel+Ford says:

      Stylistic preference, sure, but I think people, in promoting this stylistic choice, are trying to preserve the word itself. I seriously doubt the logical underpinnings of peoples’ understanding of “comprised of” are as nuanced as your Shakespeare example or in any way preserve the actual meaning of the word “comprise.”
      The loss of “comprise” to “comprised of” lacks the poetry of your example “possess” and “possessed of” and establishes the extinction of an elegant use of phrase in a generally otherwise inelegant language.

    • Righter says:

      Excessively complex and you digress a fraction, but accurate enough.

  18. Anonymous contributor says:

    I would say there isn’t a conflict. ‘Comprise’ is a simple verb with a specific mean. ‘Comprise of’ is a phrasal verb with a different meaning. For example ‘looks after’ has a different meaning then ‘look’. ‘Run into’ does not mean the same thing as ‘run’. Like most of these “comprise of” is correct, but informal. And tends to be discouraged in some situations.

    • Texpilot says:

      For cryin’ out loud, learn the difference between “then” and “than.” I think “then” has become popular because some slur the correct word (“than”) when speaking, or they simply don’t understand the difference.

      then = at that place or time, or reference to a subsequent action. “If I don’t get my homework done, then I’ll be in trouble.”

      than = a comparative used to highlight the distinction between two or more types of subjects or information. “My girlfriend is nicer than yours.”

  19. Marsha says:

    Reading your website is difficult. You have a pale gray font against a pale white/gray background, making the contrast almost nil. I have to squint to read it. Everyone using WordPress is doing that, and they have no idea of awful it is, especially for senior citizens. Please, get a contrast, such as black ink against a white background. The gray-on-gray is just plain impossible to read with an aging eye. Thank you.

  20. Gary57 says:

    If you say “is comprised of”, some people will think you should have said “includes” or “is composed of” but chose “comprised” instead because it is a five dollar word.

  21. Joel Ford says:

    “Composed of” and “comprised of” would appear to mean the exact same thing for people who misunderstand the word “comprise.” I’m guessing people who argue that “comprised of” and “composed of” have some subtle difference in meaning to them, or that limiting the definition of “comprise” is somehow archaic and myopic, are simply too prideful to admit they’ve been using the word incorrectly.
    People who try to correct this mistake are not “Blow Hards.” They are just folks who know what “comprise” actually means and are tired of seeing it butchered in all forms of writing.

  22. Gus says:

    What a load of hot air! Can we just keep it simple and stick to the rules? Instead of providing misleading answers that some of you are adamant are right, why don’t you try checking an accurate, credible reference? To avoid a long and confusing explanation – you have two choices: “comprises or comprised of”.

    As per Oxford English Dictionary – Third Edition:

    USAGE
    The usage is part of standard English, but the construction ‘comprise of’, as in “…the property comprises of three bedrooms, two bathrooms and one kitchen”, is regarded as incorrect.

    comprise > verb [with obj.] consists of; be made up of: the country comprises twenty states. Made up or constitute [a whole]: this single breed comprises 50 per cent of the Swiss cattle population.

    [be comprised of] “…documents are comprised of words.”

    I suggest all the “bullshitters” cut the crap and get themselves a reference that is credible and correct, such as OED. And if you have any issues with the information I have gleaned, take it up with Oxford. Bye

  23. Angus Fowler says:

    To avoid confusing or misleading anyone, lets just stick to the rules from a credible reference source. As a professional writer, I se confusion about this matter all too often.

    As per Oxford English Dictionary – Third Edition:

    USAGE
    The usage is part of standard English, but the construction “comprise of”, as in “…the property comprises of three bedrooms, two bathrooms and one kitchen”, is regarded as incorrect.

    comprise > verb [with obj.] consists of; be made up of: “… the country comprises twenty states.”

    Made up or constitute [a whole]: “… this single breed comprises 50 per cent of the Swiss cattle population.”

    [be comprised of] “…most documents are comprised of words.”

    I hope that helps and if anyone has an issue with the above information, please take it up with Oxford University Press.

  24. Bee says:

    This is getting boring and misleading. Check the Oxford English Dictionary people; “comprises” or “comprised of”.

    For example:
    The country comprises twenty states.
    or
    The country is comprised of twenty states.

    Both are correct!

    An example of incorrect use is:
    The country comprises of twenty states.

    Wrong!

    Regardless of opinion, that’s the rules peeps.

  25. Different FROM says:

    When you say, “The country is comprised of twenty states”, you are really saying, “The country is made up of of twenty states”.

  26. CMYN56 says:

    The whole comprises the parts. “Comprise” is active in voice but means “is composed of.” The whole “is ‘is comprised of’ comprised of.” It is redundant like “and etc.”

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