Comprise

Possibly the most abused two-syllable word in English. It means "contain," "consist of," "be composed of." Most problems could be avoided by remembering this mantra: The whole comprises its parts.

Consider this misuse: Vegetables comprise 80 percent of my diet. The correct sentence is Eighty percent of my diet comprises vegetables. My diet consists of vegetables; vegetables do not consist of my diet.

This sentence looks right to most people: Joe, John, and Bob comprise the committee. But it's the other way around: The committee comprises Joe, John, and Bob.

Another common misuse is the phrase comprised of, which is never correct. Most people use comprised of as an elegant-seeming alternative to composed of. An ad for a cleaning service states, "Our team is comprised of skilled housekeepers." Make it "Our team comprises skilled housekeepers," "Our team is composed of skilled housekeepers," or, perhaps the best choice, "Our team consists of skilled housekeepers."

Since comprise already means "composed of," anyone using comprised of is actually saying "composed of of."


Confusing Words and Homonyms

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