User:Giraffedata/comprised of

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I have edited thousands of articles so that they do not contain the phrase "comprised of". Edit summaries for those edits usually refer to this page.

This page explains the purpose of these edits and the project in general.

(If you came here to find the flaw in my reasoning because you already know I am wrong, you should probably read the section Common misunderstandings of my thoughts and my work first, because you might just be attacking a straw man).

"Comprise" in English[edit]

It is undisputed that the original meaning of the word was to include or contain, as in, "The 9th district comprises all of Centerville and parts of Easton and Weston." The whole comprises the parts; the parts are comprised in the whole. The etymology of the word doesn't support any other conclusion. But going back at least hundreds of years, people have been using it backwards, in the sense that the parts comprise the whole or the whole is comprised of the parts. This yields, "The 9th district is comprised of all of Centerville and parts of Easton and Weston." Or even, "All of Centerville and parts of Easton and Weston comprise the 9th district." This is apparently because "comprise" sounds a lot like "compose"; one might hear "the whole is composed of the parts" and "the whole comprises the parts" and merge the two in one's mind.

But this early usage was just negligent; it was always corrected by more skilled writers. We know that because for most of those hundreds of years, usage remained at the same very low level. It was like "could of done" is today. There is a traditional saying to help people avoid the error: "The whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole."

And then the 1960s happened, and forcing unnecessary rules on people for things like grammar fell out of favor. In these years, we see use of the phrase "comprised of" skyrocket, and it has continued to increase since then. Ultimately, the usage was accepted enough that dictionaries recognized "compose" as a secondary meaning of "comprise". But the language purists never gave up. While they wouldn't force others to stick to the original meaning, they did not use the reverse sense in their own writing, or anything they were responsible for. They presumably disliked reading it as well. Merriam-Webster's usage expert remarks that it is extraordinary how people have clung to traditional comprise -- English usually changes more easily. Usage guides and style manuals consequently always tell you not everyone accepts comprise for compose, so the best advice is to avoid it.

Nonetheless, people today learn language by copying it more than by studying linguistics, and the reverse usage of comprise is at least as common as the original, so that a great many people today are not even aware comprise ever meant anything but compose. Usage guides have softened considerably over the years, in some cases from "write this and everyone will know you're ignorant" to "there's nothing really wrong with this, but your more perfectionist readers think there is, and you need to accommodate them."

My view[edit]

I believe using "comprised of" is poor writing, because

  • It's new. Many current Wikipedia readers were taught to write at a time when not one respectable dictionary endorsed "comprised of" in any way. It was barely ever used before 1970. Even now, style manuals frequently call out this particular usage as something not to do.
  • It's illogical for a word to mean two opposite things.
  • The etymology of the word does not support "comprised of". It comes from Latin words meaning to hold or grasp together. Other English words based on those same roots are "comprehensive" and "prehensile" (as in a monkey's prehensile tail: it can grab things). Comprise's French cousin also makes this clear.
  • It's imprecise. English has a variety of ways to say things the writer means by "comprised of". "Composed of", "consists of", and "comprises" are subtly different. In sentences I edit, it often takes careful thought to decide just which one of these things the article should say. Thus the sentence with "comprised of" isn't quite as expressive.
  • Many writers use this phrase to aggrandize a sentence -- to intentionally make it longer and more sophisticated. In these, a simple "of", "is", or "have" often produces an easier-to-read sentence. (Example: "a team comprised of scientists" versus "a team of scientists").
  • It's completely unnecessary. There are many other ways to say what the writer means by "comprised of". It adds nothing to the language.

Other commentators[edit]

Fowler's Modern English Usage, in its various editions, is one of the most widely respected style guides for English. Fowler's is fairly liberal in accepting usage that is popular even if it goes against previous guidance—it embraces language evolution. Nonetheless, the 1999 edition, published 30 years after the great expansion of "comprised of", is unequivocal that "comprise" should not be used for "compose", "consist", or "constitute". It says, "It is even less correct to confuse 'comprise' with 'consist' and adopt a hybrid construction 'comprise of' or 'be comprised of'".

The Chicago Manual of Style says, "The phrase is comprised of, though increasingly common, remains nonstandard. Instead, try is composed of or consists of" (17th edition (2017), page 320).

Paul Brians in his book Common Errors In English Usage recommends against using the phrase, while acknowledging that some people don't mind it.

The Grammar Slammer editing tool by English Plus says the whole always comprises the parts.

Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style advises to avoid "is comprised of".

According to Dr Grammar's Frequently Asked Questions, "comprised of" is always wrong.

Writer Travis Bradberry identified comprise in 2015 as one of 20 words whose misuse "makes smart people look dumb". He placed comprise/compose confusion in the same class as "accept/except" confusion.

Tim Ross gives another good explanation about what's incorrect about "comprised of" on his talk page, complete with references.

In August 2007, a Wikipedia Manual Of Style discussion covered this. This discussion includes rare advice from one Wikipedian to prefer "comprised of" — but only in preference to "comprises".

Jonathon Owen describes some research he did into historical usage. He also explains that "comprised of" is technically wrong, but says he has "given up" and accepts the phrase.

A usage note in the Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that a writer "may be subject to criticism" for using "comprised of" and suggests alternative wording for that reason. It notes that in spite of being in use for over a hundred years, it is still attacked as wrong, but says it isn't clear why the attackers have singled out this usage. Opposition has long been declining; in the 1960s, 53 percent of American Heritage Dictionary's expert Usage Panel found the wording unacceptable; in 1996, only 35 percent objected; by 2011, it had fallen a bit more, to 32 percent (quoted here). OED usage note calls it "part of standard English".

As explained elsewhere in this essay, dictionaries for the most part do not comment on usage, but just give facts about how a word is used.

There are at least several bots on X (formerly Twitter) that scan the platform for "comprised of" and admonish the poster. One such is EngrishPorice, which deals in a long list of common English mistakes. Here, "comprised of" finds itself in the company of "could care less", "should of", "your going", and "Brussel sprouts".

Arguments for "comprised of"[edit]

Elegant variation[edit]

I know of only one argument actively for the use of "comprised of" instead of its various alternatives: elegant variation. Elegant variation is the idea of using multiple phrasings for the same thing in a piece of writing to avoid tiring the reader with repetition. Sports announcers are famous for using this as they use dozens of ways to say "beat" in running down a list of scores. So "comprised of" can be a useful variation in a paragraph that already uses all the alternatives. This argument is inapplicable, though, in something like an encyclopedia, where clarity is more important than euphony. Where clarity is important, it is important to use consistent terminology, so elegant variation is a bad thing.

Less ambiguous than "comprises"[edit]

I have seen one argument that "comprised of" beats "comprises" in particular, because the latter is ambiguous. That ambiguity happens when you 1) admit another misuse of the verb "to comprise", and 2) use a plural where you shouldn't. In another case of "comprise" being used opposite of its natural sense, "to comprise" means to "constitute", as in "Three states comprise the Pacific Northwest." With that usage considered, the phrase "phyla comprise classes" can mean either that phylum is above class in the taxonomy of living things or that class is above phylum. "phyla are comprised of classes" is unambiguous. But so is "a phylum comprises classes", which is also clearer.

Has unique meaning[edit]

This essay wouldn't be complete if I didn't report that I've known a few people to claim that "comprised of" has a distinct meaning different from all of the alternatives. But I hesitate to mention it, because none of those people have enunciated what the unique meaning is, or provided any reason to believe that it's a meaning commonly understood by other readers. I have yet to see a dictionary that says "comprise" in that context is anything but a synonym of "compose" or "consist" or a usage guide that says anything but "don't".

Less confusing in musical context[edit]

I have heard several times the argument that "comprised of" is better than "composed of" in an article about music. The argument is that in a music context, "compose" refers to writing music, so "comprised of" is a less confusing wording when you mean the regular "composed of". This does not, of course, argue for "comprised of" in general, because there are lots of other alternatives to "composed of". But a bigger objection I have to that argument is that I think musicians actually do mean the traditional "compose" when they speak of writing music. They are putting notes together to make something bigger. I think they apply that same art when they put together an album or a band, so that "the album is composed of live recordings" or "the band is composed of former blues singers" should evoke the same thoughts as "she composed the song on a ukulele".

Rebuttal arguments[edit]

Besides the active arguments above, I know several arguments that "comprised of" is as good as the alternatives, and arguments that one shouldn't edit out the phrase from existing articles.

As we can see in a web search, there are a great number of people who are perfectly fine with "comprised of". In fact, many of them have never heard that there's a problem with it. Dictionaries list it.

The prevalence argument does very little for me -- I don't see grammar as a majority rule thing. The prevalence would have to be about 99% for me to accept it as valid (though still unfortunate) usage. Bear in mind that a great many people write "could of", yet few people who study the issue argue this is a Wikipedia-worthy way to say "could have".

The dictionary argument also fails to hit the mark, because the function of a dictionary isn't to tell you what is OK to use in any particular writing. It merely tells you what people mean when they do use a word. The only time the dictionary gives you permission to write something is when you're playing Scrabble. The dictionary can help us build a prevalence argument (see above), but then we have to take note that no dictionary lists "compose" as the primary definition of comprise, and isn't it better to use words with their primary definitions where we can?

Another rebuttal argument says that the incorrectness of "comprised of" is a thing of the past -- that English has evolved to include this new usage, as it evolved to accept "he goes" in place of "he goeth". This argument says people who don't accept "comprised of" just haven't gotten the word yet.

But "comprised of" is nowhere near that status, and it might never be. Webster's dictionary says the phrase has been in use since the 1700s, and it still hasn't managed to win over everyone. American Heritage notes that the fraction of its usage experts accepting the phrase has been trending upward in the past few decades, and an analysis of the Google Books Corpus in 2012 shows a distinct upward trend, but it still has a way to go before we can put it in the same class with "he goes".

Some people rebut the argument that "comprised of" is illogical with a claim that English is inherently illogical, so it doesn't matter. They are no doubt thinking of the copious other illogical features of English that are not only universally accepted, but unavoidable. One needn't look further than irregular verbs to see this. But the pain caused by all those quirks obscures the fact that English is really more logical than not. If human languages were not fundamentally structured and logical, we probably wouldn't even have a word for grammar. In any case, 1,000 illogical constructions is better than 1,001, so in deciding whether to accept a particular construction, it is worth considering logic.

I've even heard a specific rebuttal to the idea that it's bad for "comprise" to have two opposite meanings, because there are other words that do. Take "dust", for example, which can mean to remove dust or to apply it. The "1,000 is better than 1,001" argument applies here, but I also find that only one of the other auto-antonyms is actually opposite in grammatical construction, with agent and object reversed. If "Bob rents a house", Bob might be either the landlord or the tenant, but in the spirit of "comprised of", Bob might also be the property.

The auto-antonym that is structurally like "comprise" is "possess". One sometimes hears "John is possessed of a special talent", where "is possessed of" means "possesses", just like "is comprised of" is used to mean "comprises". The origin of this reversal is quite different from that of "comprise", based on an old legal status of "possession". Putting someone into or out of this status was called "possessing" of "dispossessing" the person of the property. The important point is that there is no rule demonstrated -- both of these reverse usages are unique and we are unlikely ever to see, "This bag is contained of (i.e. contains) six apples" or "the blade makes (i.e. is made of) titanium".

Pointlessness of caring about it[edit]

The arguments for leaving "comprised of" alone often point out that my edits will not erase the phrase from the language, make people stop using it, or prevent its eventual evolution into undisputed correct English. I agree with all of that, and I don't see how it makes a difference. Those things have never been goals of mine.

Other arguments take the "waste of time" form. I won't offer a rebuttal of that, because an individual editor's allocation of his time shouldn't be anyone else's concern.

How people deal with the issue[edit]

Here, I'm not talking about how people deal with seeing the phrase or how they elect to write personally, but what people do when they have to make a policy for publication.

You know what my policy for Wikipedia is.

Another encyclopedia widely viewed as a standard of excellence for the genre is Encyclopædia Britannica. A search in June 2009 for the phrase "comprises three" turns up 65 hits. "is comprised of three" gets zero. So "Comprised of" is probably formally prohibited in that work.

I believe virtually all major English language newspapers have style guidelines that prohibit "comprised of", as do other edited publications.[1]

Wikipedia policy[edit]

Wikipedia does not have a policy or guideline on whether "comprised of" is welcome in the encyclopedia. People sometimes say there should be one, and some state a related opinion that until there is, nobody should remove "comprised of" from an article. But that just isn't how Wikipedia works. A Wikipedia article gets its grammar and style the same place it gets its facts: from the editing public. Each editor applies his own judgment in adding material, and in reviewing and modifying existing material. Disputes sometimes develop, and there are procedures for dealing with those. In general, an article ends up reading however the majority of people who care want it to read. Even spelling is crowdsourced on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia does have a style manual, but it focuses on technical presentation - things like punctuation. Because more traditional publications do have style manuals that dictate grammar and word usage, people sometimes propose additions to Wikipedia's to do the same, and the proposals are always rejected.

Regional dialect[edit]

It has been suggested that "comprised of" is a regional thing, like the spelling of "color" or the phrase "figure out"/"work out". But I don't think there is any regional variation in the acceptability of the phrase — I think there are people who accept it and people who despise it in all regions.

It's easy to understand how this claim arises: when an Australian tells a Canadian that a phrase he has been using all his life is wrong, the easiest way for the Canadian to reconcile that is to conclude that the problem is unique to Australia. And it certainly ends an argument quickly — how many people are versed in the fine points of both Canadian and Australian English?

The point is really moot, though, because of two things: 1) readers from all over the world read Wikipedia, and wherever we can use a common language, we should. In spelling "color", we can't, but in using "comprise", we can. 2) Most of the arguments I make above for avoiding "comprised of" in Wikipedia are based not on how many people find the phrase discordant, but logic. Logic is the same in all regions.

But it is an interesting question nonetheless. One person from New Zealand told me that "comprised of" is not disputed in New Zealand. In May 2011, an anonymous editor wrote in Wiktionary that the objection to "comprised of" is only in "North American English" and that the phrase is fully accepted in "British English". In the year after that, several people referred me to that Wiktionary article as authority for that fact.

The only sources cited by Wiktionary were other more respected dictionaries, and I explained above what those dictionaries tell us. It is true that comparing the standard UK dictionary, Oxford, with the standard US ones, Webster's and American Heritage, one finds Oxford slightly more positive about "comprised of" than the other two. The only thing Oxford has negative to say about it is that that meaning is not the "primary" meaning of "comprise".

But I wanted some actual evidence of the anonymous Wiktionary claim, so I did a study of Wikipedia in June 2012. It was not extensive and there was plenty of room for error, but it indicated to my satisfaction that "comprised of" is not more accepted in British English. I edited the Wiktionary article to reflect that.

My study was as follows. I looked at several hundred random articles whose topic had special appeal to residents of some particular English speaking place. For example, an article about a highway in California is especially appealing to a resident of California. I divided those between the British Isles and everywhere else. The British Isles had 29%. I then made the same analysis of articles which contained the phrase "comprised of", either in its own text or in a quote or citation. (I excluded 35 articles about the New Jersey public school system, because they all contain a "comprised of" from the same source). The British Isles had 14% of the "comprised of" articles. The math indicates writers in that region are 2.5 times less likely than writers everywhere else to use the disputed phrase.

My subjective feeling that comes from years of editing Wikipedia is that the distribution of "comprised of" matches the distribution of speakers of English.

One area where I know from my work on Wikipedia "comprise" is more likely to be used in its reverse senses is articles about India. Those contain not only lots of "comprised of", but the even less accepted usages, "comprises of" and "yesterday it comprised of A, B, and C". However, I can't tell whether that indicates the reverse senses are generally accepted in India or there are just a lot of less skilled writers of English in India, where many writers speak another language primarily. The same articles typically are replete with other instances of irregular grammar that I've never heard of being accepted anywhere.


I am one of the people who consider "comprised of" poor English. But that's not why I edit it out; I don't edit Wikipedia for personal taste. The fact that lots of other people feel the same way is what makes it seem like a good edit to me.

As one who subscribes to the anti-comprised-of doctrine described above, I can tell you it triggers the same "what an idiot" neurons in us as "could of" and "could care less". If I can spare any readers that discomfort without hurting anyone else, why wouldn't I?

Furthermore, many of us are not as sympathetic as I am to people who call "comprised of" OK. These readers may consider the occurrence of the phrase in Wikipedia as evidence that it is written by amateurs and not a respectable work.

Reaction to the project[edit]

Many people are opposed and many people are in favor, as evidenced by their comments on my Wikipedia talk page. The ratio of comments, both in number and forcefulness, was originally heavily on the opposed side, but today is mostly positive.

But these ratios are in no way representative of, well, anything.

For one thing, the total number of comments (about 25 as of the end of 2009) is a minuscule fraction of the readers or editors of Wikipedia and of the number of edits.

For another, there is probably a serious selection bias. People who hold one opinion might be significantly more motivated to express it than those who hold the other. For example, it's apparent that the great majority of commenters were moved to comment when I edited their work, thus rejecting their view of this word.

I believe the reason for the shift from the negative to positive preponderance is that commenters have become more educated. That's right - I'm saying the smart position is the positive one. I say this because I responded to the negative comments by publishing this essay, and continually improving it. I and others also explained the edits on my talk page. As more information on why the edits are good became available, the number of negative comments steadily declined.

Of course, it could also be that people in the early days thought they could educate me on the beauty of "comprised of" and in modern times they can see that I've already considered every argument thoroughly and am thus beyond convincing.

At least six times someone has asked the Wikipedia authority structure to get involved:

  • Early on, there was a question to a style discussion forum whether the edits are right. There were responses on both sides, but the overwhelming force was agreement with me. My first barnstar resulted from that.
  • In September 2008, an editor reported the edits[1] as "semi-vandalism", but the claim was rejected. Seven people responded, all in favor of the project.
  • In June 2009, an editor brought the project to attention of an administrator and asked if it warranted intervention. [2] The answer was "no", based on the fact that the edits don't make the article worse. The administrator does note, "I personally disagree with [Giraffedata's] position."
  • Later that month, an editor asked Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikimedia board member, on his Wikipedia talk page, to intercede. He said that wasn't the place to deal with the matter, but did comment, "I believe that Giraffedata's arguments against our using it are persuasive." (He also clarified that that was not meant as an endorsement of the project itself, which he had not looked into).
  • In June 2010, an editor posed the question [3] on the Village Pump policy page whether the kind of edits I sometimes do violate a Wikipedia policy: repeatedly applying the same grammatical edit to an article, spaced out by months, even though some people don't want the change. (Actually, in using me as the example to back up the question, the editor goes further: there is consensus against the change). The discussion went briefly astray into specifics of this particular project, but was quickly closed by the moderator because the question was "not generalizable", so not suitable for discussion there.
  • Five years later, in June 2015, an editor brought up the same issue again at the Village Pump, again using my project as the prime example, but this time instead of proposing that wikignome activity that doesn't have unanimous approval should be banned completely, the editor proposed that wikignomes be required to keep a list of articles for which there is some objection to the editing and not touch those articles. There was no support. There were a few comments in support of the idea that wikignomes should not force their style preferences where others don't share them, but that was not relevant to my project, since I don't force anything. There was an extensive debate between two editors as to whether my edits in particular are a good thing.

Dozens of editors have let me know that they learned of the grammatical issue from my edit, had consequently decided to avoid "comprised of" in their writing, and thanked me.

Sometimes, editors revert my edits. I don't know how often, because I don't keep track and I don't remember the articles well enough to recognize when the same one comes across my screen twice. But based on numerical analyses I've done, I think it's about one per cent. Once, around 2008, I obviously attracted a stalker, a single editor who reverted about 30 in a row in the same order in which I made them. It happened again in 2015 in the wake of widespread publicity about the project and after the stalker bragged about it in public, an administrator admonished him, claiming he was disrupting consensus edits, and ultimately blocked the editor when he refused to stop.

Also in the wake of that publicity, a person changed about 30 instances of "composed of" that were written by someone other than me to "comprised of" and someone inserted the phrase "comprised of" randomly into a bunch of articles. These were done via multiple single-purpose Wikipedia accounts and may have been all the same person.

The project, and I personally, were lauded in comments by Steven Walling and Maryana Pinchuk, employees of Wikimedia Foundation, at a panel discussion at Wikimania 2012 entitled "This is my voice: the motivations of highly active Wikipedians". The panel listed motivations for working on Wikipedia and I came up under "perfectionism" and "challenge". (Steven's highly commendatory comments about my mindset in the project are accurate in my opinion, except that he seems to assume more emotion than is actually involved. I don't actually get angry when I see "comprised of" show up in Wikipedia, and I especially don't get angry at the editors who put it there.)

History of the project[edit]

I began systematically replacing "comprised of" in Wikipedia in December 2007. At that time, 11,700 articles contained the phrase. I edited about 140 a week in the beginning.

By August 2010, I had removed every instance of "comprised of" except the 150 or so in quotations and a few dozen that were protected by an article owner and entered a mode of editing the new occurrences as they were introduced. About 70 new instances were introduced each week at that time, along with 10 "comprising of".

In 2021, the number of new instances each week had dropped to 60, probably a result of editors being educated by my work. The rate of "comprising of" additions remained at 10 per week.

How I edit[edit]

I essentially search Wikipedia articles, templates, and categories for the phrase "comprised of" (with the quotes) using Wikipedia search. I use an "insource" modifier to avoid finding the phrase in quotations.

But the number of articles containing the phrase is small enough that I need a method for avoiding editing the same articles over and over. There are a small number of articles that are effectively owned by a person who takes personal offense at the edits. To mitigate the offense, this editor does a revenge reversion. I don't want to offend people or start a fight, so I try to concentrate on the articles that don't have such owners, which are the vast majority.

So my actual process involves a program that does the Wikipedia search (it just fetches the same URL as you fetch when you type in the Wikipedia search box) and compares the list to the previously fetched lists. It selects only those articles that weren't in one of those lists in the previous six months and generates a web page linking to them, in alphabetical order. I browse that page and proceed to edit them in order. I edit about 60 articles a week this way, typically within a few days of the article being created or edited to require it. Because of the six month limit, I may edit the same instance every six months if someone is changing it back. The purposes of the six month limit are that another instance of "comprised of" might get added to an article I previously cleaned and an article watcher who reverted my previous edit might have retired.

In any case, the actual editing is an intellectual process. I read the sentence and paragraph, understand what it's supposed to say, and choose a better wording. Sometimes I fix a few other things while I'm in the neighborhood.


Where "comprised of" is within a quotation, it is arguably proper to change it to "composed of" or "comprises" unless the function of the quotation is to make a point about the speaker's grammar. This is akin to quoting a person in English who actually spoke in French. In fact, I have heard it argued that it is unfair to a source to quote his grammatical mistakes, since they stand out a lot more in a written quotation than they did when the person said it informally.

However, I don't intentionally edit "comprised of" in quotations. Where the phrase is not integral to the quote, I simply quote less and paraphrase more; encyclopedias are supposed to paraphrase more than excerpt anyway. Where the phrase containing "comprised of" is quote-worthy, I leave it in, but mark it with a {{sic}} tag to make sure future editors (especially me) realize it is a quote and don't edit it by accident. I use the hide=yes parameter so that the article doesn't say "sic" next to it because there's no reason the reader will suspect the phrase is an editing error.

I use this odd convention:

{{sic|comprised |hide=y|of}}

It has the special advantage that if you are looking for articles that contain "comprised of" and shouldn't, you can type the following in the Wikipedia Search box and the article containing "comprised of" in a quotation will not be among the results:

insource:"comprised of"

There are people who object to use of the hidden sic tag, for reasons that are not at all clear to me. I have heard from three of them (only one in the context of "comprised of"). Their incoherent arguments use words like, "we can't modify quotations", "the quotation is accurate", and "there's nothing wrong with the quotation". But to be sure that my use of the tag conforms to the consensus of the Wikipedia community, I posted an Rfc in mid-2017 about it. Most of the reaction, of course, was no reaction because this is too trivial for most people to care; they're happy to leave it up to the few who do. But the RfC demonstrated a clear consensus that the hidden sic tag on quoted instances of "comprised of" is a good thing.

Media coverage[edit]

There was extensive media coverage and commentary about the project in early 2015, sparked by an article by Andrew McMillen in Backchannel. The project drew McMillen's attention when his own editor corrected his use of "comprised of" and in researching the issue, he found this essay as one of the top web search results.

Here is a list of coverage references, contributed by various followers of the project, but mainly Emw:


Here are barnstars my "comprised of" work has earned. (Unfortunately for detractors of the work, Wikipedia doesn't have a system for awarding tokens to disparage an editor).

The Minor Barnstar
For picking the mother of all nits. --Milkbreath (talk) 01:35, 4 April 2008 (UTC)
The Copyeditor's Barnstar
As one of those who was making that mistake myself, I award you this Barnstar in thanks for all your work in correcting "comprised of" errors. Your work gives Wikipedia more credibility. Thanks ϢereSpielChequers 11:42, 11 September 2008 (UTC)
The Working Man's Barnstar
For your tireless efforts to improve the quality of this project in small but important ways. --AbsolutDan (talk) 00:28, 30 September 2008 (UTC)
The Socratic Barnstar
awarded to those editors who are extremely skilled and eloquent in their arguments
for winning me over with the "comprised of" argument. I didn't even know it was incorrect! -- Noelypole 09:39, 3 May 2010 (UTC)
The Socratic Barnstar
I came to your user page wondering why you had removed the phrase "comprised of" from Venancio Roberto, an article I had written. What I found was this page in which you set out an argument against a particular phrasing with a thoroughness one rarely sees in grammatical justification. Rather than saying simply "the dictionary discourages it", you set out a logical argument, and made someone who prides himself on correct grammar think about an issue that had never crossed his mind before. Thank you. かんぱい! Scapler (talk) 06:49, 1 November 2010 (UTC)
The Invisible Barnstar
For little corrections that do add up. KimChee (talk) 08:56, 2 December 2010 (UTC)
The Working Man's Barnstar
For your tireless efforts in eradicating the improper use of the word "comprised", I award you the Working Man's Barnstar!  Cjmclark  17:02, 22 November 2010 (UTC)
The Copyeditor's Barnstar
For efforts with this: User:Giraffedata/comprised of. "Comprised of" is pretty redundantly put and overly used, which not many notice. Count me in for this for where ever I come across. lTopGunl (talk) 07:50, 16 April 2012 (UTC)
The Surreal Barnstar
Thank you for the English lesson! I enjoyed your user page immensely and I learned something useful, too. And by golly, I'm derned if that isn't exactly what Wikipedia is supposed to be all about. Belchfire-TALK 03:58, 20 August 2012 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
Thanks for fixing grammar/style issues and maintaining a standard on articles. I actually thought "comprised of" sounded incorrect, and I was going to use "compose of", but I'd already used it multiple times in the Minecraft article. Also, thanks for your informative page explaining the usage of the term. - M0rphzone (talk) 00:12, 9 October 2012 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
For your work on "comprised of" [sic]. An all too rare sight it is when an editor insists to the point of exhaustion upon using words to mean what they mean, rather than what he says they mean. Kudos to you for attending to this particular misuse - the only times I can get as energized about language involve the use of "literally" to mean literally the exact opposite of what it means. ☯.ZenSwashbuckler.☠ 19:41, 25 March 2013 (UTC)
The Special Barnstar
Esoteric but correct usage fix in South Los Angeles. GeorgeLouis (talk) 04:28, 6 May 2013 (UTC)
The Editor's Barnstar
I'm impressed with your continued work behind the scenes to improve the quality of English on Wikipedia. Andrew327 04:31, 14 August 2013 (UTC)
The Tireless Contributor Barnstar
Hey Giraffedata! I've seen you a lot lately fixing sentences removing these poorly written "comprised of" phrases. Thank you very much and I do appreciated your works. Thanks again and have a nice day! :) Mediran (tc) 09:39, 9 September 2013 (UTC)
The Copyeditor's Barnstar
Nice to see someone know their stuff where grammar is concerned! Thank you for all the edits (fixing "comprised of"). Meteor sandwich yum (talk) 06:41, 23 March 2014 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
You're a legend, Bryan. Thanks for correcting my semi-regular use of 'comprised of'. Never again will I use it! Andrew McMillen (talk) 01:35, 26 March 2014 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
Just wanted to take a moment and appreciate the work that you are doing on Wikipedia. You edited an article where I wrote "comprised of" and I must say, you did rightly so. I read a part of your "comprised of" page and I will definitely read the whole of it. It's informative and interesting. AMAZING! Muhammad Ali Khalid (talk) 16:50, 14 April 2014 (UTC)
The Tireless Contributor Barnstar
Awesome job on comprise of project Kansiime (talk) 05:19, 18 January 2015 (UTC)
The No Comprised Of Barnstar
No one else like you can be "comprised of" (full of) grammatical undos! 1234567890Number Msg me Edits 01:02, 4 February 2015 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
I'm glad you're on the issue of "comprised of" and rewriting sentences on Wikipedia with more apt turns of phrase. Keep up the good work. WeijiBaikeBianji (talk, how I edit) 05:35, 4 February 2015 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
For your continued efforts to rid Wikipedia of improper grammar - RoyalMate1 14:11, 4 February 2015 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
Jimgerbig (talk) 00:21, 5 February 2015 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
Awesome! Panurk (talk) 00:48, 5 February 2015 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
Annoying usage adds up. Eradicating it takes great diligence. Thank you for your perseverance! Phytism (talk) 01:39, 5 February 2015 (UTC)
The Writer's Barnstar
Your tireless and generous work has greatly contributed to my well-being, as well as that of, doubtless, many others, by eliminating uncountable instances of writing that would otherwise have caused the intellectual equivalent of the screech of fingernail on chalkboard. I salute you! Ian Page (talk) 18:49, 5 February 2015 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
Hi Bryan,

I enjoyed reading about your endeavours on Wikipedia ... Regardless, thank you for your effort. It is appreciated. Nabazela (talk) 12:46, 13 February 2015 (UTC)

The Copyeditor's Barnstar
Absolutely love your dedication in defence of our language.

I feel a bit guilty for saying this but I did spot one of my betes noir in your user page: "There are a small number of articles..". Tesspub (talk) 12:52, 15 February 2015 (UTC)

The Copyeditor's Barnstar
Thanks for replacing "comprised of" with alternative and better phrasing. Thanks to your project, avoiding "comprised of" is a (de facto) standard. Esquivalience t 23:10, 25 February 2015 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
You have spent years working on this, and I commend you for your diligence and attention to detail. :) BlooTannery (talk) 13:54, 16 March 2015 (UTC)
The Tireless Contributor Barnstar
Nice to see someone knows grammar well, and tirelessly fixes the errors the likes of myself make. Keep up the great work Simuliid talk 14:16, 27 March 2015 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
What you (Bryan Henderson) have done for Wikipedia users is phenomenal. Please do the same to all of the incorrect occurrences of "due to" in Wikipedia! I can't count the number of times I've been reading an article and had to change "due to" to "because of". Writers: if no $, then no due to. Bammie73 (talk) 00:53, 4 May 2015 (UTC)
The Writer's Barnstar
For removing "comprised of" C E (talk) 13:56, 29 May 2015 (UTC)
The Surreal Barnstar
Thanks for all you have done in terms of "comprised of". I look forward to the day that those two words are not placed together in wikipedia. JhonsJoe (talk) 15:34, 31 May 2015 (UTC)
The Dank Barnstar Comprised of Dankness
Because I'm a teenager, my sentences are often comprised of the word "Dank". Thanks for helping me with my english essays because I suck at English, I guess. Redditaddict_6_9 04:23, 15 August 2018 (UTC)
The Copyeditor's Barnstar
You deserve this! Field Marshal Aryan (talk) 04:42, 13 July 2020 (UTC)
The Copyeditor's Barnstar
Thank you for your edits! Your extensive work in correcting "comprised of" is brilliant. Starsign1971 (talk) 05:41, 8 December 2020 (UTC)
The Writer's Barnstar
I don't know how I'm just finding out about this fascinating project from your edit on Cardiacs discography, but I applaud your dedication! Miklogfeather (talk) 11:07, 18 May 2022 (UTC)
The Editor's Barnstar
Thank you for your edit to Owasso High School! RubyLu05 (talk) 00:18, 1 July 2022 (UTC)
The Barnstar of Diligence
After reading through your essay on the phrase "comprised of", I wanted to award you with a barnstar for your tireless diligence in being an awesome contributor! BlueNoise (talk) 10:22, 3 October 2022 (UTC)
The Original Barnstar
I arrived on this page unconvinced of your wisdom. I leave completely convinced. Bravo. Atomix330 (talk) 04:29, 7 February 2023 (UTC)
The Minor Barnstar
For your work on eradicating the phrase "comprised of" on Wikipedia. -- Shadow of the Starlit Sky 02:08, 11 April 2023 (UTC)

Alternative phrasing[edit]

There are many alternative phrasings that are universally accepted as proper English and good writing. Because the phrase has spread by use by less careful writers (a writer who went to the trouble to find out how to use it probably would have decided not to use it at all), "comprised of" has many meanings. In fact, one of the advantages to avoiding "comprised of" is that an alternative is bound to be more precise.

composed of[edit]

Probably the best general-purpose replacement is "composed of". It fits almost any place you see "comprised of", though may not say exactly what the sentence wants to say.

Composing means putting together. When you say A is composed of B, C, and D you emphasize that B, C, and D are parts that come together to make A. A should not have any other parts than B, C, and D. There should be more than one part, and the sentence should simply list the parts, not describe how they go together.

Remember that "composition" and "component" are other forms of the word, so if you might use those words in discussing the subject, "composed of" is probably good.

"An ax is composed of a handle and a head."

"Tissue is composed of cells."

consists of / consisting of[edit]

These are almost as good as "composed of" as a general-purpose replacement. It too fits almost any place you see "comprised of".

Consisting of something is a more abstract concept than being composed of. When A consists of B, C, and D, these parts are not necessarily distinct parts that are simply assembled. In fact, A can consist of just B. "Consists of" works as a fuzzy "is".

"Paint consists of various pigments suspended in a carrier."

"Comedy consists of making people laugh."

Where there are distinct and exhaustive components and the sentence does nothing but list them, "composed of" works better.

When "comprised of" is used to modify a noun instead of after "is", use "consisting of": "A substance comprised of pigments suspended in a carrier is paint" becomes "a substance consisting of pigments suspended in a carrier is paint."


"Comprises" is arguably what earlier users of "is comprised of" were thinking of, being distracted by the similar phrase "is composed of" to end up at the hybrid.

"Comprises" works technically in most places, but the connotation is rather different from "is composed of" or "consists of". "Comprises" means "includes", but usually means exhaustive inclusion -- there aren't any other parts.

When A comprises B, C, and D, it's true that B, C, and D are the components of A, but the phrase emphasizes that A brings them together. B, C, and D should have some independent existence and not function merely as parts of this whole.

"The diocese comprises Johnson and Davis Counties" is good if there is no territory in the diocese other than Johnson and Davis Counties. Note that the counties are much more than divisions of a diocese; the diocese merely gathers them together for church purposes.

The most common things for which I use "comprises" are geographical boundaries, school sports leagues, and consortia of businesses and such.

"Comprises" can be used for uncountable things too, as in "The campus comprises all of the woodland on the north side of the lake".

When "comprised of" is used to modify a noun instead of after "is", use "comprising": "The diocese comprised of Johnson and Davis Counties is the wealthiest one" becomes "The diocese comprising Johnson and Davis Counties is the wealthiest one".

made up of[edit]

This works where you're listing ingredients, but they aren't distinct parts.

"Brass is made up of copper and zinc."

If someone actually made the thing, "made of" may be more expressive.

made of[edit]

This is for when someone actually put the parts together. In the same way that active voice supplies more information than passive, "made of" supplies more information than any phrasing that just describes the resulting composition.

"The tent is made of canvas and nylon."

divided into[edit]

This is the other side of "made of". When something started out whole and someone divided it into parts, "divided into" supplies more information than just describing the resulting composition.

"The agency is divided into twelve departments."

(But it depends upon the agency. Did someone actually divide up the agency, or did someone assemble pre-existing departments into an agency? "comprises" may make the point better).


I don't see "comprised of" used this way often, but sometimes it refers to parts that define something more than actually compose it, and then I like "encompass".

"The no-fly zone encompasses all the military and government buildings in the city".

is, has, of, etc.[edit]

Many times, an author considers "comprised of" in a deliberate attempt to make the sentence longer and more complex. This is supposed to lend a mood of intelligence or sophistication to the sentence. In technical writing, such as in an encyclopedia, ease of comprehension is far more important than mood, so a simpler sentence is better, and simple words such as "is" and "has" make the point just fine.

"The dwelling is comprised of a brick house." ⇒ "The dwelling is a brick house."

"The committee is comprised of five members" ⇒ "The committee has five members".

"a team comprised of scientists" ⇒ "a team of scientists"

Refer to the parts instead of the composition[edit]

The mind is constructed in such a way that we understand a sentence most easily when it forms a picture in our head — a picture of things acting on other things. It is far easier to form a picture of something concrete like a rock than something abstract like geology. It is also easier to picture one item, like a tree, than to picture a gestalt collection of items, like a forest.

So a student is easier to picture than a student body:

"The student body is comprised of residents of Centerville." ⇒ "The students are from Centerville."

A band member is easier to picture than a band:

"The band is comprised of John, Mary, and Bob." ⇒ "The members of the band are John, Mary, and Bob."

A resident is easier to picture than a population:

"The population is comprised of former New Yorkers." ⇒ "The residents are former New Yorkers."

"Comprises of"[edit]

There is a related problematic phrase, "to comprise of" (and its various forms). Like "is comprised of", this is a mishearing of two phrases which mean about the same thing: "to consist of" and "to comprise". But this phrasing is far less accepted than "comprised of". No major dictionary even acknowledges the usage.

Other grammatical forms of this usage include "comprising of", "comprise of", and "[subject] comprised of ...".

I have found this especially prevalent in articles about India and articles rife with other less accepted grammar.

I began purging these from Wikipedia in November 2010, at which time there were about 3000 articles containing it. I now just expunge new instances — about 15 a week.


I've noticed that some people mistake "is comprised of" as "comprise" used in the passive voice. It actually isn't. This doesn't affect the propriety of its usage at all, but I thought the grammatical construction would be interesting to anyone who is trying to dissect this issue.

In "An axe is comprised of a handle and a head", "comprised" is a past participle adjective.

It's hard to give a meaningful example of "comprise" used in the passive voice, so I'll explain the difference using an easier verb: paint. The past participle of "paint" is "painted", which as a past participle can be used either in a passive voice verb or as an adjective. Passive voice is a "mood" of a verb, so it refers to an action. In the sentence, "The table is painted after it is assembled", the verb is "is painted", which is in the passive voice. An adjective modifies a noun. In "You don't have to polish a table that is painted", "painted" is a predicate adjective modifying "that" (which stands for the table). It may be easier to see it as an adjective in, "A painted table doesn't have to be polished".

Note that when people use "comprised" to mean composed, they don't necessarily use "is" with it, as would be the case with a passive voice verb. E.g. "Teams comprised of professionals usually beat teams of amateurs."

Common misunderstandings of my thoughts and my work[edit]

This Wikipedia project is quirky enough that it garners much publicity. Reports of it sometimes reach people who care a lot about grammar and voice objections, both to my opinions and to my actions.

I have no problem with people having and expressing a difference of opinion, but annoyingly often, the objection is to some exaggeration of what I am saying or doing, typically by people not familiar with Wikipedia.

I decided therefore to list a bunch of corrections:

  • I don't say "comprised of" is incorrect English.
  • I don't criticize people for using "comprised of".
  • I don't hate the phrase "comprised of" or people who use it.
  • I don't edit "comprised of" in a quotation.
  • I don't edit other peoples' documents.
  • There is no obsession or compulsion involved. I like editing Wikipedia.
  • I do not spend a large amount of time editing Wikipedia or thinking about the word "comprise" — it's one to two hours a week.
  • I am not an especially active Wikipedia editor. Even with these trivial edits, I don't even make the top 1,000 most active editors by edit count. Many of those top 1,000 are also copy editors.
  • I edit manually — I read a sentence, decide on the optimal wording for it, and type that in.
  • I did not make up the idea of reserving "comprise" for its "consist of" definition. It was taught to me, like to millions of others (from whom I hear all the time).
  • I know language changes.
  • I know "comprised of" is in dictionaries.
  • It is not my goal to get people to stop using "comprised of", and I know that they won't.
  • I don't modify existing Wikipedia text just to make it match my personal taste.


  1. ^ Siegal, Allan (1999). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Three Rivers Press. p. 80.