Comprised of is an expression in English that means "to compose or constitute". While its use is common in writing and speech, it has been regarded by some language professionals as incorrect. The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries regard the form "comprised of" as standard English usage, but according to Oxford the construction "x comprises of y and z" is considered incorrect. Synonymous phrasing includes "composed of", "consists of" and "comprises".
Use"Comprised of", with what is by far its most common meaning today, has occurred since the early 18th century. Here are some examples :
- "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."
- "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!"
- "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 ..."
- "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."
- "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."
- "The body-covering of birds is, without exception, comprised of feathers, and by this character alone birds may be distinguished from all other animals."
- "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
It has been used in several newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The New York Times.
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"., 134,000 U.S. patents included "comprised of" language.
In U.S. lawIn 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."
SyntaxAlthough 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 and adjective comprised is perhaps most easily understood via compose:
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, 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.
English has a number of adjectives that take as their complements preposition phrases headed by of. Common examples include afraid, aware, and convinced.
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. 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. However, the sentence "the book comprises a hundred pages" is neither ungrammatical nor tautological.
SemanticsThe Oxford English Dictionary shows that the verb comprise has been used with a range of meanings. In its earliest known uses, it seems to mean "To lay hold on, take, catch, seize", a sense now obsolete. The word comes from French , 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 " as the fourth sense, first encountered in 1481. 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".
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, it behaves like one semantically.
However, with the meaning of comprise that is the commonest, the parallel pair is not possible for comprise. Instead, it is only possible for the pair %"The committee is comprised of three judges", and %"Three judges comprise the committee", both disputed.
Evaluation"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.
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."
The style guide for the British newspapers The Guardian and The Observer says that "The one thing 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'."
Despite these deprecations, in a 2011 survey, only 32 percent of the writers and editors on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary found "comprised of" unacceptable.
Certain usage guides warn their readers about the meaning of comprise – despite the appearance within respected dictionaries of the use they deprecate – 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. Although the Oxford English Dictionary notes that certain usages of other words are disparaged, it does not comment on the acceptability of "comprised 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: "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. 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 WikipediaIn 2015, many media outlets, starting with Backchannel, reported that Wikipedia editor Bryan "" Henderson had manually removed many instances of "comprised of" from the online 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 the 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.