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Is sense 2 a valid usage? I would regard it as an incorrect variation of sense 1, but if others use comprise in this way, should it be marked as informal? (or is just my pedantry that makes me think it sounds wrong?) Dbfirs 23:23, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

(later) On reflection, perhaps I'm being too fussy. The word has been used with many senses (including the proscribed one mentioned in the usage notes) for hundreds of years! What does anyone else think? Perhaps dated for sense 2? Dbfirs 23:29, 10 December 2008 (UTC)
I absolutely agree, Dbfirs, with your first instinct.
Sense 2: "This box comprises all my belongings" is very wrong, for several reasons.
One of the major functions of "comprise" is to imply an exhaustive list of contents or parts (and I strongly feel that this should be included in the definition.) If what is meant by Sense 2 is "this box contains all my belongings" what possible need is there to use 'comprise' instead? (Maybe "The contents of this box comprise all my belongings" would make sense, but in that case it would be more natural to use 'represent'.)--Tyranny Sue 23:30, 5 April 2009 (UTC)
Shouldn't we base these pages on reputable sources, not how you feel? Websters, for example, provides "includes" as the first definition, and "to be made up of" as the second. Furthermore, this very page lists a specific definition used in patents which is the exact opposite of yours, i. e., including but not limited to.
Would you be the same anonymous poster, by any chance, who posted the 'Definition 3' entry below?
Do you understand what the definition says about the relationship, based on the etymology (i.e. a shared Latin root) between 'comprise' and 'comprehensive'?
It is natural for people whose reading has been mostly confined to the relatively modern to think that the usage of 'comprise' that they are familiar with is the only or primary meaning. Broadening your reading (historically) would probably give you a sense of the distinction.
(p.s.'included but not limited to' is not "the exact opposite" of 'comprehensively including'. The opposite of "included but not limited to" would be 'mostly excluding'.)--Tyranny Sue 06:16, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

Discussion moved from Tea Room re. 'exhaustive list'[edit]


I'd like to propose an adjustment to our definition of 'comprise'. 'Comprise' (at least every time I've seen or heard it correctly used) has two important nuances which most other dictionaries have missed the opportunity to spell out (usually leaving it up to a couple of inadequate examples to try to get them across). These nuances are: :I didn't word this as well as I could've & now realise that the example "the container comprises its contents" is not helpful. Please disregard first point, as it's completely wrong (like "this box comprises all my possessions").--Tyranny Sue 05:22, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

  • ‘comprise’ functions in the same was as ‘embrace’ (the container comprises its contents)


  • ‘comprise’ implies that the list it refers to is exhaustive (so you are alerted to the fact that the contents comprised by the container are comprehensively listed when you see the word ‘comprise’)

These nuances are the very things that make 'comprise' such a specifically useful word and give it its own integrity, which is threatened by the history of chronic confusion with similar words like 'compose' and 'include'. Wikipedia has a great opportunity here to finally really pin this word down in all its wonderful, specific usefulness. (exciting!) (Please see also Bill Bryson's entry on ‘comprise’ in his book 'Troublesome Words'.)--Tyranny Sue 00:20, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Bear in mind that we are attempting to document the language as it is used — not to lay out a set of rules for what usages are "acceptable", which speakers would ignore at their convenience anyway. Equinox 00:22, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
Yup, I totally understand and agree with that. It's really not at all about anyone's idea of 'acceptableness', but about clarifying the specificity & integrity of the word's primary/central meaning.
I have not proposed (and will not propose) any deletion/censorship of other usages. My intention is not about removing other meanings, but about protecting the endangered primary meaning.--Tyranny Sue 00:45, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
In patents, at least, comprise definitely does not mean the list is exhaustive. When you say "A vacuum cleaner comprising a hose, a motor and a switch," you don't mean that the vacuum cleaner has no other parts. Wakablogger 00:26, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
Absolutely, which is why there should probably be a Usage note about its usage(s) in law (or in patent law).
In non-legal (i.e. general) literature it does seem to imply an exhaustive list.
Are there any other legal-usage-specific nuances? And does/might it vary between branches of law?--Tyranny Sue 01:01, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
Black's is not helpful at all, though I'm pretty sure there was recently a case in the United States where a court made a ruling about the scope of comprise. Do you have any citations that clearly show that comprise can be exhaustive, or is it best to say that it could be either, like include? Wakablogger 20:43, 7 April 2009 (UTC)

Yes, my Pocket OED (1961) has as its first listed meaning, "have or embrace as constituent parts (esp. exhaustive list of such parts)". The word is etymologically related to 'comprehend' (from L. comprehendere), so I'm guessing the idea behind the primary meaning involved an assumption of full (rather than partial) comprehension (inclusion). The definition goes on to say "include in scope or contents". I guess the first meaning makes it a more thorough version of 'include'.

And while we're here (& if you have time) could you just tell me if you think meaning 2, synonymous with "contain" sounds right to you (as per discussion above)? It sounds completely wrong to me.--Tyranny Sue 14:42, 8 April 2009 (UTC)

'contain' (?!)[edit]

Regarding meaning 2 in comprise's entry, does anyone actually use it this way (i.e. as synonymous with 'contain')?

To include, to contain. 
This box comprises all my belongings. 

You wouldn't say "This box includes all my belongings", would you? And don't think I've ever heard or read of 'comprise' being used to mean 'contain'. 'Embrace', yes, 'contain', no. --Tyranny Sue 15:07, 8 April 2009 (UTC)

Related term: comprehensive[edit]

Would this be a candidate for inclusion in a Related Terms box?--Tyranny Sue 03:31, 10 April 2009 (UTC)

Compose/Constitute Definition[edit]

Is there evidence that the third definition is informal or the most recently used? Websters ( seems to indicate that that definition was used chiefly in technical literature for over two hundred years. Furthermore, their "evidence" (whatever that means) suggests that this is now the most common definition. I can't definitively say this page is wrong, but it certainly seems to be taking a rather severe and prescriptive stance on a common, old, consistent, and well-documented usage.

1. Whoever you are, could you please sign your posts?
2. Yes, the evidence (as it says in the entry) is that 'comprise', like 'comprehensive', comes from the same Latin root as 'comprehend', and thus shares that shade of meaning (i.e. comprehensive, all-inclusive).
3. Many style guides also give evidence that the 3rd definition is non-traditional/informal/a case of confusion between two words that sound & mean something similar (just googling 'comprise' should give you some results on that).
Think about when you usually use 'comprise', would 'include' or 'compose' not do the job just as well? Of course you are free to use the words as if they're interchangeable and mutually indistinguishable, but what's the point then of having the different words?--Tyranny Sue 05:36, 2 July 2009 (UTC)
p.s. your webster's link doesn't work.
p.p.s. your proposal to change the entry to prioritise the usage that you are used to and prefer (despite the evidence of the etymology and many dictionaries, e.g. the Oxford, and many style guides; see the rest of this discussion page, also the one on the general discussion page, and the entry itself) would itself be 'prescriptive'. It sounds like your motivation for wanting to label the current entry 'prescriptive' comes mainly from a strong personal disinclination to learn something new (to you) about a word you're used to using a certain way.
On top of this, what you would be prescribing (by prioritisng your preferred usage) is an erosion of the particular and specific usefulness of 'comprise' (to make it completely synonymous with 'include' and 'compose'). This would mean deliberately damaging a very useful linguistic instrument for no good reason. Why not embrace the new thing you've learned about 'comprise' and use it to make your use of English more effective, instead?--Tyranny Sue 08:21, 6 July 2009 (UTC)


Dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive. The inclusion of a sense of the word in any dictionary does not confer correctness on the usage, it merely offers a person unfamiliar with the word the information necessary to decode what it might mean in a particular context. The use of "comprised of" to mean "composed of" is incorrect, even if it is a "frequent and accepted" error in diction.

North American/British English distinction[edit]

In May 2011, an anonymous editor modified the usage notes to say that the objection to the reverse senses (compose, constitute) is North American and that there is no objection in British English. I'm pretty sure this is not true, and will change it back now.

The only sources cited are other dictionaries, and the North American ones point out that the reverse senses are widely used there, and the British one indicates that the reverse senses are secondary to the "include" sense. I read lots of US court opinions, and highly educated North American judges often write "comprise" for "compose."

I wanted to get a more objective sense of any regional variation, so I did a statistical study a week ago of Wikipedia. It indicated that if anything, writers of British English use the reverse senses less than writers of other English.

This was my study: I looked at several hundred random articles whose topic had special appeal to residents of some particular English speaking place. For example, an article about a highway in California is especially appealing to a resident of California. I divided those between the British Isles and everywhere else. The British Isles had 29%. I then made the same analysis of articles which contained the phrase "comprised of," either in its own text or a quote or citation. I excluded 35 articles about the New Jersey public school system, because they all contain a "comprised of" from the same source. The British Isles had 14% of those. Doing the math, this indicates writers in that region are 2.5 times less likely than writers everywhere else to use the disputed phrase.

I have written extensive thoughts about the secondary definitions of "comprise," essentially an argument against using them in Wikipedia, [here].

Giraffedata (talk) 20:42, 24 June 2012 (UTC)


"The parts are comprised by the whole. However, the passive voice of comprise must be employed carefully to make sense. Phrases such as "animals and cages are comprised by zoos" or "pitchers, catchers, and fielders are comprised by baseball teams" highlight the difficulty."

This sounds like complete nonsense to me. Since "comprise" essentially means "include," any construction that includes the phrase "comprised of" is incorrect, falling under the definition labeled as such, and not definition #1, no matter how "carefully" it's phrased. We do not say "included of." The past tense of the word instead is the simple "The committee comprised all ten persons before its dissolution."

Will some member please change this embarrassing content and keep it from reappearing? All that it does is defend the misunderstandings of so many persons who have never understood the meaning of the word "compose" and therefore imitate others by using "comprise" in this incorrect fashion (which they believe to be intelligent-sounding!)

And who are you to make the decision for the rest of us? I note that the New Oxford Dictionary of English (2001) gives be comprised of in one of its definitions. Mglovesfun (talk) 12:06, 31 October 2013 (UTC)


There's nothing "informal" about the "comprised of" construction, which routinely appears in the NY Times, the New Yorker and other relatively formal sources, and occurs more than 1800 times in the Federal Code, hardly an "informal" venue. "Considered incorrect" elevates a controversial judgment to a matter of general agreement. There is no evidence that more than a minority of writers object to the construction, which was deemed acceptable by about 2/3 of the American Heritage Usage Panel. See, eg.

Not at all common in British English though. Equinox 05:27, 22 February 2015 (UTC)
Comparing members comprise (US) to members comprise (UK) and team is comprised (US) to team is comprised (UK), the construction seems to be very roughly equally uncommon in both British and American English, though perhaps somewhat more uncommon in British. - -sche (discuss) 06:09, 22 February 2015 (UTC)