Consists of and comprises

in Back to basics

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, prompted by coming across more and more of what I perceive to be misuses of ‘comprises’ and ‘consists’. I feel very strongly about it – but, as you’ll see, I fear may be in an increasing minority. So here we go.

I keep seeing sentences along the lines of:

The property comprises of two flats and a maisonette.

My outfit is comprised of a skirt and t-shirt.

The module comprises of three units.

The uses of ‘comprises of’, ‘was comprised of’ and ‘comprises of’ are wrong. The sentences should read:

The property comprises two flats and a maisonette.

My outfit comprises a skirt and t-shirt.

This module comprises three units.

If you want to use the word ‘of’, you need to use ‘consists’ or ‘is composed’:

The property consists of two flats and a maisonette.

My outfit consists of a skirt and t-shirt.

This module consists of three units.

The property is composed of two flats and a maisonette.

My outfit is composed of a skirt and t-shirt.

This module is composed of three units.

‘Comprises’ isn’t a fancier-sounding substitute for ‘consists’. It’s a fancier-sounding substitute for ‘consists of’ or ‘is composed of’.

Having said all this, it’s interesting to note that my edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary is starting to admit to defeat on the distinction. It says that ‘is comprised of’ is “fast becoming part of standard English” and is “more or less synonymous with the traditional” ‘comprises’.

My take? If your company is the sort of company people would expect to get things ‘right’, it’s important to get the use of ‘comprises’ right. And if your readers will be the type of people who are aggrieved by what they perceive as a misuse (i.e. people like me), it’s important to get it right too.

 

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