Comprised of is an expression in English; "x is comprised of y " is a phrase used to indicate that x is composed or made up of y. While its use is common in writing and speech, it has been disparaged by many language professionals and style guides as an inappropriate and tautological substitution for comprises ("x comprises y" also means that x is composed or made up of y). The Oxford Dictionaries online dictionary regards the passive form "comprised of" as standard English usage, but condemns the construction "x comprises of y", while the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Collins English Dictionary do not regard "comprised of" as wrong, mentioning it among their examples.
"Comprised of", with what is by far its most common meaning today, has occurred since the early 18th century.[n 1] Here are some examples (with emphasis added):
- "For so tho' a Triangle in the most simple and precise Conception of it be only a Figure comprised of three right Lines, yet these three Lines will necessarily make three Angles, and these three Angles will be equal to two right ones, &c." (1704)[n 2]
- "Not Punch, nor salmagundi, nor any other Drink or Meat, of more repugnant Compounds, can be comprised of more contrary Ingredients, nor work more different Effects in the various Minds of Men and Women, than that sublime! groveling! joyful! melancholy! flourishing! ruinous! happy! distracting! whimsical, and unaccountable, tame, mad Monster, Love!" (1752)
- "The supper having been removed, and nothing but the dessert, which is comprised of the choisest fruits, and confectionary in all its various forms and claſſes remaining, the party stand prepared for the attack ..." (1818)
- "So the younger division of the party, comprised of Nellie Cahill and Edith Paulton, fell to the rear, and the other division kept the front." (1886)
- "I started another sketch on the strength of this statement, but feeling a bit dubious over his assertion that the one tree was comprised of a whole row, I tackled the 'oldest inhabitant,' an ancient and pensioned park-keeper, who luckily hove in sight." (1902)
- "The body-covering of birds is, without exception, comprised of feathers, and by this character alone birds may be distinguished from all other animals." (1911)
The works of major novelists, intellectuals and essayists have included "comprised of":
- "The mining towns are comprised of the sudden erections which sprung from the finding of gold in the neighbourhood, and are generally surrounded by thick forest.” Anthony Trollope, 1873
- “One element of the immediate feelings of the concrescent subject is comprised of the anticipatory feelings of the transcendent future in its relation to the immediate fact.” Alfred North Whitehead 1929
- “There is a dead nerveless area on the Left, comprised of the old sense of paralysis before the horror of the gas chamber.” Norman Mailer, 1968
- ”The dualism to which Sartre refers is that of the unconscious id, which is wholly comprised of the instinctual drives, and the conscious ego.” Lionel Trilling, 1972
- ”The book is comprised of a few of the innumerable letters, statements, speeches and articles delivered by me since 1963.” Bertrand Russell, 1967
- ”’The Auroras of Autumn’ is comprised of ten sections, each of unrhymed tercets.” Harold Bloom, 2003
- "I never set out to 'write' a memoir — the book called 'A Widow’s Story' is comprised of journal entries from Feb. 11, 2008, through Aug. 29, 2008." Joyce Carol Oates, 2011
- ”The House of the Spirits is, or rather retrospectively it became, the last of a trilogy that is comprised of itself, preceded by Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia.” Christopher Hitchens, 2011
In U.S. patents
"Comprised of" is used in U.S. patents as a transition phrase that means "consisting at least of". It is a less common form of "comprises". As of 2007[update], 134,000 U.S. patents included "comprised of" language.
In U.S. law
In the context of legal usage, American lexicographer Bryan A. Garner writes that "The phrase is comprised of is always wrong and should be replaced by either is composed of or comprises." (American linguist Mark Liberman points out that the U.S. Code "apparently includes some 1,880 instances of 'comprised of', and changing them will require many acts of Congress…")
Although comprise is a verb, comprised is an adjective if it takes as its complement a preposition phrase headed by of. The distinction between the verb comprise (of course including preterite and past participle "comprised") and adjective comprised is perhaps most easily understood via compose(d):
Treatments of this topic nearly always mistakenly speak of is composed of and is comprised of as passives. They aren't. Compose in its musical/literary sense does have a passive (The Moonlight Sonata was composed by Beethoven), but the part/whole sense doesn't. Nobody says *Brass is composed by copper and zinc. Instead we get Brass is composed of copper and zinc – and there is no understood by-phrase.
Specifically, comprised within "comprised of" is a participial adjective.[n 3]
English has a number of adjectives that take as their complements preposition phrases headed by of. Common examples include afraid ("He's afraid of spiders"), aware ("They were aware of the dangers"), and convinced ("They became convinced of their strength").[n 4]
In the process of conversion from verb to adjective, complementation may change. The verb comprise does not license a preposition phrase headed by of: its meaning aside, *"The book comprises of a hundred pages" is ungrammatical.[n 5] However, the adjective comprised requires it: both *"The book is comprised a hundred pages" and *"The book is comprised" are ungrammatical. Grammatically, this is patterned on the conversion of verb compose to adjective composed (although semantically, matters are more complex). However, the sentence "the book comprises a hundred pages" is neither ungrammatical nor tautological.
In Malaysian English, not only the adjective comprised but also the verb comprise can take a preposition phrase headed by of. An example: "The ethnic population of Malaysia comprises of 50.4% Malays and 11% other bumiputras who form the majority of the population." Therefore, in Malaysian English, "comprised of" may be syntactically (and semantically) different from "comprised of" discussed in the remainder of this article. (For example, in the sentence "It said the panel comprised of Ong Choon Heng; Khoo Lay Tatt and Ang Siak Keng", "comprised" is the preterite of the verb.)
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) shows that the verb comprise has been used with a range of meanings. In its earliest known uses (from 1423), it seems to mean "To lay hold on, take, catch, seize", a sense now obsolete. The word comes from French comprendre (which itself comes from Latin), but while the OED does not call obsolete every comprehension-related sense of comprise, its newest examples are from the 1850s. The OED presents "Of things material: To contain, as parts making up the whole, to consist of (the parts specified)" as the fourth sense, first encountered in 1481. (However, it notes that "Many of the early passages in which this word occurs are so vague that it is difficult to gather the exact sense.") In the English of the 20th and 21st centuries, the part/whole meanings have been overwhelmingly important. Two are exemplified in:
- "The committee comprises three judges."
- %"Three judges comprise the committee".[n 6]
The former is not disputed. The latter is less common, and is disputed. It may be the result of a centuries-old malapropism for compose, a malapropism that caught on. Malapropism or no, it is now well established. The OED gives use 8.b of comprise as "To constitute, make up, compose", and dates this back to 1794; and it has been used by respected writers (for example, Charles Dickens).
One may say "The committee is composed of three judges", and also "Three judges compose the committee". Although the former is not a passive clause (as explained in "Syntax", above), it behaves like one semantically.
However, with the meaning of comprise that is the commonest (and is not disputed), the parallel pair is not possible for comprise(d). Instead, it is only possible for the pair %"The committee is comprised of three judges", and %"Three judges comprise the committee", both disputed. (Very few native speakers of Standard English would accept *"Three judges are comprised of the committee".)
"Comprised of" is often deprecated. The authors of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation state that "comprised of" is never correct because the word comprise by itself already means "composed of". CliffsNotes says "don't use the phrase 'is comprised of'", but does not explain why.[n 7]
As one of "7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to", University of Delaware journalism and English professor Ben Yagoda says "Don't use comprised of. Instead use composed of/made up of." But he does not explain how this is a matter of grammar rather than lexis, or what is wrong.
The style guide for the British newspapers The Guardian and The Observer says that "The one thing [about comprise, consist, compose or constitute] to avoid, unless you want people who care about such things to give you a look composed of, consisting of and comprising mingled pity and contempt, is 'comprised of' ". Reuters' style guide also advises against using the phrase, as does the IBM style guide.
Simon Heffer elaborated on a short warning in his book Strictly English with a longer one in his Simply English: "A book may comprise fifteen chapters, but it is not comprised of them. Those who say or write such a thing are confusing it with composed of. Another correct way to make the point would be to say that the book 'was constituted of fifteen chapters' or that 'the fifteen chapters constituted the book'." (Yet Heffer himself is one of those who writes this.)
Certain usage guides warn their readers about the meaning of comprise – despite the appearance within respected dictionaries of the use they deprecate (see "Semantics") – but do not mention "comprised of". These include Gowers and Fraser's The Complete Plain Words and the style guides of The Economist and The Times. Other usage compendia have no comment on either "comprised of" or comprise.[n 8] Although the Oxford English Dictionary notes that certain usages of other words are disparaged,[n 9] it does not comment on the acceptability of "comprised of" (which it glosses as "To be composed of, to consist of").
Overt defenses of "comprised of" are uncommon, but Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker considers its deprecation to be one of "a few fuss-budget decrees you can safely ignore". Oliver Kamm defends it, together with the verb comprise used in the active voice:[n 10] "Merriam-Webster observes that this disputed usage has been in existence for more than a century. The active version of the disputed usage is older still. Neither is unclear in the context; both are legitimate." Conversely, Edinburgh University linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum writes "I’d happily comply with an edict limiting comprise to its original sense … I see no reason to favor the inverted sense.[n 11] There’s nothing virtuous about the ambiguity and auto-antonymy it promotes. It’s easier than you’d think for unclarity to arise about whether an author is saying some abstract X makes up Y or that it consists of Y."
Removal from Wikipedia
In 2015, many media outlets, starting with Backchannel, reported that Wikipedia editor Bryan Henderson (Giraffedata) manually removed many instances of "comprised of" from the encyclopedia. Some coverage praised the work as a uniquely focused effort for correctness, but others criticized it as grammatically misguided. Geoffrey Pullum expressed approval of the principle mingled with doubt about its practicality, saying he would be happy for the editor's "clarifying mission to succeed. However, I wouldn't bet a dime on his success." Linguist Geoff Nunberg described one editor's ongoing "jihad" against the use of the phrase an "example of the pedant's veto" and that the community was "resigned to letting him have his way" despite its being illogical.
- With what is likely to have been a different meaning, it goes back to 1661 if not earlier. See David Russinoff, Mark Liberman, and commenters, "More on the history of comprised of meaning 'composed of'", Language Log, 6 June 2011.
- see Mark Liberman, "Counterfeit cultural capital", Language Log, 11 May 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
- For the distinction between participial adjectives (e.g. uninvolved, also called adjectival participles) and past participles (e.g. enjoyed), see Rodney Huddleston, "The Verb", chap. 3 of Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; ISBN 0-521-43146-8), pp. 78–79; and "Participial adjectives", The Internet Grammar of English, University College London. See also the discussion of the adjectival passive in Gregory Ward, Betty Birner and Rodney Huddleston, "Information packaging", chap. 16 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp. 1436–1440. For a more detailed and technical treatment, see Andrew McIntyre, "Adjectival passives and adjectival participles in English", in Artemis Alexiadou and Florian Schäfer, eds., Non-Canonical Passives (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2013; ISBN 9789027255884); McIntyre's paper is also freely downloadable here (Lingbuzz). The notion of participial adjective is not new; it can be found in for example Simon Kerl, A Common-School Grammar of the English Language (New York, 1866); here at HathiTrust.
- A non-exhaustive list of fifty or so such adjectives appears in Pullum and Huddleston, "Adjectives and adverbs", chap. 6 of Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p. 544.
- By linguistics convention, an asterisk in front of a putative sentence or phrase denotes its ungrammaticality to native speakers of the language.
- By linguistics convention, a superscripted percentage mark in front of a putative sentence or phrase denotes its grammaticality to some but not all native speakers of the language.
- This has not led to the removal of "comprised of" by CliffsNotes' own copyeditors. See for example its occurrences within BTPS Testing, CliffsNotes GMAT with CD-ROM (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012; ISBN 978-1-118-07752-8).
- As an example, H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1937). Derivative works may differ. For example, Margaret Nicholson, A Dictionary of American-English Usage: Based on Fowler's Modern English Usage (New York: New American Library, 1958) states that comprise "means include, embrace, NOT compose or constitute. WRONG: The committee is comprised of one delegate from each major country (should read composed)."
- As an example, the earliest use of disinterested ("Without interest or concern; not interested, unconcerned") is "Often regarded as a loose use".
- As an example of the latter, Kamm quotes Herman Melville in Moby Dick: "Nor do heroes, saints, demigods, and prophets alone comprise the whole roll of our order."
- "Unfortunately, for centuries the verb comprise has also been used to mean compose. I’ll call this the inverted sense."
- Webb, Celia and Mack. "Tautologies". Pilinut Press, Inc. TM: Publisher of Advanced Readers and How-To Books. Pilinut Press, Inc. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
- "Comprise". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
- "Comprise". Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
- "Definition of 'comprise'". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
- John Norris, An essay towards the theory of the ideal or intelligible world. Design'd for two parts: The first considering it absolutely in it self, and the second in relation to human understanding (London, 1704), part II (Being the relative part of it), § 43, p. 53; here at Google Books.
- W. [William] Goodall, The adventures of Capt. Greenland: Written in imitation of all those wise, learned, witty and humorous authors, who either already have, or hereafter may write in the same stile and manner (London, 1752), vol. 1, p. 30; here at Google Books.
- J. [John] Shillibeer, A Narrative of the Briton's Voyage, to Pitcairn's Island; Including an Interesting Sketch of the Present State of the Brazils and of the Spanish South America, 3rd ed. (London, 1818), p. 140; here at Google Books.
- Richard Dowling, Tempest-Driven: A Romance (London, 1886); here at Project Gutenberg).
- Harry Furniss, The Confessions of a Caricaturist (New York and London, 1902) vol. 1, p. 99; here at Project Gutenberg.
- The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts Sciences, Literature and General Information, 11th ed., s.v. "Feather"; here at Project Gutenberg.
- Anthony Trollope (1873). "Australia and New Zealand". Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- Alfred North Whitehead (2010). "Process and Reality (1929)". Simon and Schuster. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- Norman Mailer (1968). "The Armies of the Night". Penguin. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- Lionel Trilling (27 April 2010). "Sincerity and Authenticity". Harvard University Press. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
- Bertrand Russell (2014). "The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967)". Routledge. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- Harold Bloom (2003). "Wallace Stevens". Chelsea House Publishing. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- Joyce Carol Oates (2014). "Why We Write About Grief". New York Times. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- Christopher Hitchens (2011). "Arguably". McClelland & Stewart. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- "Comprise". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
- Mark Liberman, "Counterfeit cultural capital", Language Log, 11 May 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
- Sambyal, Swati Singh. "This city proves how feasible a zero-landfill model is". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
- Crouch, Dennis, “'Comprised of' is an open-ended transition”, [[Patently-O 14 October 2007]
- Cias, Inc. v. Alliance Gaming Corp., 504 F. 3d 1356 – Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit 2007
- Garner, Bryan A. (2001). A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 187. ISBN 0-19-514236-5.
- Mark Liberman, "Can 50,000 Wikipedia edits be wrong?", Language Log, 8 February 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
- Geoffrey K. Pullum, quoted in Michael Quinion, "Comprise redux", World Wide Words. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
- Geoffrey K. Pullum, "Comprise yourself", Lingua Franca, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11 February 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
- Tan Siew Imm, "Structural nativisation in Malaysian English: Prepositional verb idiosyncrasies", Southeast Asian Review of English, pp. 133–151; here at academia.edu.[full citation needed]
- "Welcome to Malaysian node of the Human Variome Project Archived 2015-02-14 at WebCite", Malaysian Node of the Human Variome Project. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
- "Dufu gets letter alleging RM3.9m fraud by certain management", The Star Online, 11 February 2015.
- Charles Dickens, Hard Times, chap. 6; here at Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 13 February 2015. "These observations comprise the whole of the case."
- Straus, Jane; Kaufman, Lester; Stern, Tom (2014). The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: An Easy-to-Use Guide with Clear Rules, Real-World Examples, and Reproducible Quizzes (11th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-1-118-78556-0.
- Claudia L Reinhardt, Jean Eggenschwiler (2011). CliffsNotes Writing: Grammar, Usage, and Style Quick Review (3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-544-18464-0.
- Ben Yagoda, "7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to", The Week (US edition), 14 March 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
- "comprise, consist, compose or constitute?", within "Guardian and Observer style guide: C", theguardian.com, "Last updated: Thursday 5 February 2015 17.40 GMT". Retrieved 12 February 2015.
- "Reuters Style Guide: C". Reuters. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
Do not write “comprised of.” If listing only some components use “include,” e.g., “The European Union includes Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.”
- DeRespinis, Francis; Hayward, Peter; Jenkins, Jana; Laird, Amy; McDonald, Leslie; Radzinski, Eric (2011). The IBM Style Guide: Conventions for Writers and Editors. Upper Saddle River, NJ: IBM Press. p. 316. ISBN 978-0-13-210130-1.
- Simon Heffer, Strictly English: The Correct Way to Write … and Why It Matters (London: Random House, 2011; ISBN 978-1-84794-630-0), p. 153; here at Google Books. "A book may comprise fifteen chapters, but is not comprised of them."
- Simon Heffer, Simply English: An A–Z of Avoidable Errors (London: Random House, 2014; ISBN 978-1-84794-676-8); here at Google Books.
- Simon Heffer, "With MPs like these, porn films should be the least of our worries", The Telegraph, 31 March 2009. Retrieved 13 February 2015. "Most of us who have to be governed by them would be quite happy simply to have a House of Commons comprised of people who know what they are doing, have successfully held responsibility in the outside world and understand the value of money."
- Simon Heffer, "Little Scotlanders", The Spectator, 7 June 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2015. "At a time when a third of the British cabinet was comprised of Scots . . . Labour was also confident it could control Scotland. . . ."
- Simon Heffer, "Britain, alone", The New Criterion, October 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2015. "These were units based in every town and village comprised of men who were too old or too young or too unfit to be drafted into the regular forces."
- "The American Heritage Dictionary". Houghton Mifflin. 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
- Ernest Gowers, revised by Bruce Fraser, The Complete Plain Words (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1977; ISBN 0-14-020554-3), pp. 58–59.
- "Style Guide beginning with C", economist.com. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
- "Online Style Guide – C", The Times, version of July 10, 2009; archived by the Wayback Machine on June 4, 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
- Steven Pinker (2014). The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. New York: Viking. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-670-02585-5.
- Oliver Kamm (2015). Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-297-87193-4.
- Andrew McMillen (3 February 2015). "One man's quest to rid Wikipedia of exactly one grammatical mistake". Backchannel. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- * Simon Kelner (5 February 2015). "He might be a pedantic oddity, but Wikipedia's grammar crusader is my modern-day hero". The Independent. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- Sean Buckley (4 February 2015). "Man's Wikipedia edits mostly consist of deleting 'comprised of'". Gizmodo. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- Rob Price (4 February 2015). "Wikipedia editor has made 47,000 edits manually to correct one simple mistake". Business Insider. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- Christopher Howse (5 February 2015). "Pedants of the world, we salute you". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- * David Shariatmadari (5 February 2015). "Why Wikipedia's grammar vigilante is wrong". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
- Matthew Yglesias (10 February 2015). "This guy edited 50,000 Wikipedia articles to fix a grammar error that's not even an error". Vox. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
- Geoff Nunberg, "Don't You Dare Use 'Comprised Of' On Wikipedia: One Editor Will Take It Out", Fresh Air, NPR