Grammatical Mistake Leads to Animal Neglect

By Dean Land, Legal Publications Attorney Editor

By my own unscientific methods, I’ve determined that “comprise” is the most misused verb in the English language. That kind of pervasive grammatical error has serious ramifications for an editor like me. When I read the sentence, “The Oregon Supreme Court is comprised of seven justices,” I get hung up. That sentence takes over my conscious thought. Priorities go out the window, and I forget to pick up dog food on the way home.

So what’s the problem? Many writers confuse the verb “comprise” with the verb “compose.” As stated in The Chicago Manual of Style, “To comprise is ‘to be made up of, to include’ {the whole comprises the parts}. To compose is ‘to make up, to form the substance of something’ {the parts compose the whole}.” Usage hawk Bryan Garner provides the correct passive-voice phrasing: “the whole is composed of the parts; the parts are comprised in the whole.” He points out that the phrase “comprised of” is “always wrong.”

Following that logic, we have a number of different ways to express the same thought:

  • The Oregon Supreme Court comprises seven justices.
  • Seven justices are comprised in the Oregon Supreme Court.
  • Seven justices compose the Oregon Supreme Court.
  • The Oregon Supreme Court is composed of seven justices.

Some are more awkward than others, but all are correct. Most importantly, none of them will cause my dogs to go hungry.

Because misery loves company, I’m happy to report that software engineer Bryan Henderson has compulsively removed every single instance of “comprised of,” numbering in the tens of thousands, on Wikipedia. I just hope that guy doesn’t have pets.

This entry was posted in Writing and Style Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *