“Comprised of” vs. “Composed of”: A Test

At lunch today I read the following sentence in an advertising supplement in The New York Times:

Our wine team is comprised of devoted wine lovers who are some of the most respected professionals in the industry. 

Your test: Is the phrase "comprised of" correct, or should "composed of" replace it? Why? 

The phrases "composed of" and "comprised of" appear in business documents daily, raising doubts in writers' and readers' minds. Which one is correct? Or are both correct? 

The word comprise means "contain" or "consist of." With that definition in mind, let's replace comprise in the original sentence:

Our wine team is contained of devoted wine lovers.

Our wine team is consisted of devoted wine lovers.

How do those sound to you?

The word compose means "make up" or "form." If we replace comprise in the original sentence with those definitions, we get:

Our wine team is made up of devoted wine lovers.

Our wine team is formed of devoted wine lovers. 

Better? 

Yes, "composed of" is the correct form. The phrase "comprised of" is never correct to usage purists despite its regular appearance in writing. If you want to be correct in the eyes of discriminating readers, use "composed of." 

If you like the look and sound of comprise, you can still use it correctly. Be guided by its meaning "contain" or "consist of":

Our wine team comprises devoted wine lovers. 

The trio comprised two violins and a cello. 

The panel comprises experts from four industries. 

Fill in these blanks with correct words or phrases:

  1. The new book ___________ four sections. 
  2. The team ____________ Joe Black, Andrea Rogers, and Rabin Gupta. 
  3. The benefits package ____________ salary, health insurance, and three weeks of vacation.

Did you choose a phrase or a single word for your answers?

For each item, you may correctly use either "is composed of" or "comprises." 

Remember, even though you see "comprised of" often (even in The New York Times) careful writers use "composed of" and "comprises." 

Which phrasing do you prefer? 

Our Error Quests booklet contains 50 short paragraphs, each with just one error. Test yourself! 

Lynn
Syntax Training 

25 COMMENTS

  1. In most cases I would not use either “is composed of” or “comprises” in those sentences.
    The new book has four sections.
    The team is Joe Black, … or The team members are Joe Black, …
    The benefits packages contains salary, …

    On the other side, comprised of felt very wrong when I first read it and other times I have seen it, nice to know my grammar radar was spot on. I was trusting the source not my grammar radar.

  2. Hello. I always enjoy your blog and email magazine. Thank you very much for your helpful lessons.

    I looked up some dictionaries, and they say that “comprise” and “be comprised of” can be used in the same way. OALD, for example, shows the two examples:
    – The collection comprises 327 paintings.
    – The committee is comprised of representatives from both the public and private sectors.
    Could I understand from this that “Our wine team comprises devoted wine lovers.” can be also written as “Our wine team is comprised of devoted wine lovers.”? I am a little confused, and would appreciate your advice.

  3. Hello Rainbow,

    You will find “comprised of” in dictionaries. However, good dictionaries typically include a usage note about “comprised of.” They explain that strict grammarians use only “composed of” and “comprises.”

    Language rules change. Some people–language purists–try to maintain distinctions and rules about what is correct.

    In this blog, I typically explain what careful writers and editors prefer. If you follow their rules, you can be confident of your correctness.

    Lynn

  4. Hello Lynn,
    Which sentence makes more sense:
    a.) The highly efficient formulation comprises marble and fiber… or
    b.) The highly efficient formulation is comprised of marble and fiber…
    The subtle difference between these two forms often used in our industry is puzzling.

  5. Hi Lynn,

    While writing patents, my patent lawyer said that while “composed of” and “comprises” are both grammatically correct, they mean different things legally. For example:
    The fruit punch comprises apple and orange juice
    vs.
    The fruit punch is composed of apple and orange juice.
    In the first example, the fruit punch contains apple and orange juice, but may also contain other juices. In the second example, the usage of “composed of” means that the fruit punch cannot contain anything except apple and orange juice. This is especially pertinent to scientific writing, which frequently contains formulations.

    I’m wondering what your opinion of this is, and I believe it is relevant to the question Steve M posted a few months prior.

  6. Hi Roland,

    Interesting idea! Please ask your patent lawyer for a legal source (a case or a style guide) that supports his or her view. I just checked “Garner’s Modern English Usage” (2016). Garner is an attorney and a renowned language expert. He makes no such distinction.

    Lynn

  7. Can we just keep it simple and stick to the rules from a credible source please? A lot of answers/replies are simply incorrect and misleading and “Garners Modern English Usage” is not a good reference source.

    To avoid a long and confusing explanation – you have two choices: comprises or comprised of.

    As per Oxford English Dictionary – Third Edition:

    USAGE
    The usage is part of standard English, but the construction “comprise of”, as in “…the property comprises of three bedrooms, two bathrooms and one kitchen”, is regarded as incorrect.

    comprise > verb [with obj.] consists of; be made up of: “… the country comprises twenty states.”

    Made up or constitute [a whole]: “… this single breed comprises 50 per cent of the Swiss cattle population.”

    [be comprised of] “…documents are comprised of words.”

    I hope that helps and if anyone has an issue with the above information, please take it up with Oxford University Press.

  8. Hi Gus,

    I am not sure from your approach whether you are agreeing with me or not. Nevertheless, I did take it up with Oxford University Press by taking my copy of “New Oxford Style Manual” (2012) off my bookshelf. In “Part II: New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors,” I find this entry (I have used capital letters for the book’s bolding):

    COMPRISE (not -IZE; avoid construction COMPRISE OF)

    That comment seems to support us both.

    I don’t use just one source. I have a large shelf of highly regarded style guides, which I consult frequently. That variety helps me choose the right language in different situations.

    Lynn

  9. From grammar studies and workshops I have taken as a writer, I was taught that compose goes from the “parts” to the “whole”. An example I learned: individual musical notes make a musical composition. So, we go from the “parts” (notes) to the “whole” (composition).

    On the other hand, comprises goes from the “whole” to the “individual parts”. For example, The National Institute of Health comprises 12 different research departments. So, we go from the “whole” (NIH) to the “parts” (departments).

    Following the guidelines above, It would be incorrect to say that the wine team is composed of devoted wine lovers because the sentence goes from the “whole” (the wine team) to the “individual parts” (the members). We cannot always replace comprised of with composed of. We know that “comprised of” is always incorrect so…

    The sentence “Our wine team is COMPRISED OF devoted wine lovers who are some of the most respected professionals in the industry” cannot be simply switch to: Our wine team is COMPOSED OF devoted wine lovers who are some of the most respected professionals in the industry” because the sentences goes from the “whole” (the wine team) to the “parts” (the members).

    We could say the wine team comprises devoted wine members who are … or if you don’t like how comprises “sounds” in the sentences, use a synonym.

  10. Hello Ms. Gomez-Curet,

    Thanks for your comment. I do not own a style manual that agrees with your argument. If you have one that does, please share the information.

    I understand that you learned that the word “compose” goes from the parts to the whole: the parts compose the whole. But that means the whole is composed of the parts. And that is precisely why it IS correct to say that the team is composed of wine lovers and the musical composition is composed of notes.

    Is it possible that you have misinterpreted what you learned in class or that it was presented incorrectly?

    Lynn

  11. I enjoyed reading this thread.
    I particularly agree with MaryHazel.
    Personally, I always use comprise, comprises or comprised in preference to: “comprised of”, or; “composed of”.

  12. I appreciate this. But what of when the word ‘comprise’ is used in simple present tense and it is rather followed by an adjective instead of a noun, say, “the team comprises highly educated people”? Does the rule still apply without inclusion of the preposition ‘of’?

  13. Hello Olajide,

    Your simple present tense example is correct: “The team comprises highly educated people.”

    It’s similar to the examples I shared above:

    –Our wine team comprises devoted wine lovers.

    –The trio comprised two violins and a cello.

    –The panel comprises experts from four industries.

    Lynn

  14. I think “compose” emphasize the parts formed whole, while “comprise”, “consist”, “contain” emphasize the whole having.

  15. Thank you for your article –
    I believe this rule would also apply in the following example:
    Comprising of a list of 27 names, it points out that those who were involved in the act ought to be commended.

    Is it unnecessary to use ‘of’ here and should be “Comprising a list of 27 names….” or is this allowable?

  16. Why would anyone write “is comprised of” instead of “comprises”? “Our wine team comprises …” Much crisper.

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