Compose vs. Comprise

How to use "compose" and "comprise" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

The verb compose means “to make up; constitute.” Comprise is often used as a synonym for this sense of compose, but its actual meaning is “to include.” You can avoid confusing the two by not using comprise as a participial adjective or in the passive voice. Stick to the active voice usage below.

This series is comprised of seven volumes = the series is “included of” seven volumes (awkward)

This series is composed of seven volumes = the series is made up of seven volumes

This series comprises seven volumes. = the series includes seven volumes

Note that in recent years the (traditionally incorrect) expression “is comprised of” has become quite common and is much more widely accepted than in the past. But if you follow the rules and examples above, your usage will be accepted by any audience.

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.