On this episode of Word Showdown, we look at two words often used interchangeably: comprise and compose. While they sound similar, they actually have different (but related) meanings.
To understand the differences and the similarities, let’s take a closer look at their definitions:
Comprise: to contain or include
Compose: to make up
We essentially need to look at the whole versus the parts.
While the fruit salad comprises berries, berries compose the fruit salad.
To help, try replacing comprise with include. Listen to this difference: “fruit salad includes berries” as compared to “the berries include the fruit salad.” The first makes way more sense. The whole can include the parts, but the parts can’t include the whole.
Similarly, you can replace compose with make up. Let’s use the same example: “fruit salad makes up berries” as compared to “the berries make up the fruit salad.” Now the second makes way more sense.
There’s one more thing you should watch for with this pair. While “composed of” makes sense, “comprised of” does not. “Comprised of” is incorrect usage. Again, let’s use include and make up as stand-ins to explore why this is. The phrase “includes of” sounds wrong, doesn’t it? However, “made up of” sounds perfectly fine.
Let’s test this newfound knowledge!
A. The United States comprises/composes fifty states.
B. Fifty states comprise/compose the United States.
C. Twelve rooms comprise/compose the house.
D. The house comprises/is composed of twelve rooms.
A. comprises (“The United States includes fifty states” sounds correct here, while “The United States makes up fifty states” does not.)
B. compose (“Fifty states make up the United States” sounds correct here, while “Fifty states include the United States” does not.)
C. compose (“Twelve rooms make up the house” sounds correct here, while “Twelve rooms include the house” does not.)
D. both! (“The house includes twelve rooms” and “The house is made up of twelve rooms” are both correct.)
How’d you do? This one is tricky. I often have to look it up every time I encounter it to jog my memory. What words do you constantly have to look up? Let us know, and we’ll do a Word Showdown on them.