Q&A: Is “comprised of” a compromise?

Photo of the Wikipedia entry for Comprised of

Each week, we chat about the quirks & anomalies of the English language. This week comprises of an often controversial word…

Q: Hi AWC, I was wondering if you could clear something up for me?
A: We told you last time that if the rash persisted you should see your doctor.

Q: No not THAT. Although I’m still not sure about going to the doctor. Don’t want to make any rash decisions… haha.
A: …Your question?

Q: I want to talk to you about the word “comprises”…
A: Uh-oh.

Q: I struggle to see what’s wrong with “comprised of” or “comprises of” – but apparently it’s wrong.
A: Yeah, it’s a bit messy. First, the dictionary definition of the verb “comprise” gives us a few clues. It generally means to “include”, “contain”, “consist of” or “be composed of”, plus “combine to make up”. The general rule is that “the whole COMPRISES the parts”.

Q: Hmmm, but it seems to sound okay when I say that “the course is comprised of five modules…”
A: Yes, and Macquarie Dictionary includes a usage note to say that many writers will use comprise as they would “consist” or “compose” – it’s common enough to get a nod of existence in the dictionary, but purists don’t like it.

Q: Purists? Surely no one cares THAT much.
A: You must not have seen the news earlier this year. A man named Bryan Henderson spends his spare time removing incidences of “comprised of” from Wikipedia pages. According to reports, he has made more than 47,000 amendments.

Q: Wow, seriously? That guy needs to get a hobby.
A: Yes, and he received mixed reactions. Many traditional writers applauded his efforts, but English is a constantly evolving language and some say that this shift in usage is simply something that should be accepted. Like Vegemite chocolate or Graham Norton with a beard. “Choose your battles” as it were.

Q: Perhaps that Wikipedia guy could take up patchwork quilting…
A: In fact, writers have been going off-book and using “comprised of” since the 1700s…

Q: What about playing the ukulele, or scrapbooking?…
A: The term “comprised of” is also common when submitting patents and even appears in high-profile publications like The New Yorker.

Q: Stamp collecting maybe… Possibly model airplanes…
A: Generally, we’d recommend keeping the “of” off the end of comprise, comprised, comprises or comprising. Mainly because words like “consists of”, “composed of”, “made up of” etc generally do a good job of saying the same thing.

Q: Is taxidermy a hobby?
A: “The building comprises three levels” or “a song comprising five verses” is the preferred method. You won’t upset the purists and the more progressive writers won’t likely care.

Q: Oh, sorry, I was distracted thinking up hobbies. But yes, that sounds fine. Whatever you said. I’m sure your answer was comprised of excellent points.
A: Or perhaps you’d rather it “comprised” or “consisted of” excellent points?

Q: Nah, I’m good. Wouldn’t want to compromise my beliefs.
A: As long as you’re prepared to be corrected by people like Bryan.

Q: I’ll take my chances.

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