With the launch of my new audio course, “Wake Up Your Prose: Description Unpacked,” I’ve been concentrating on description tactics and techniques for the past few posts. Today, however, we’re going to return to Comedy Grammar with a new series I’m introducing:
Grammar Questions You’ve Been Too Embarrassed to Ask
In this post, we’ll tackle the first.
Comprise vs. Compose
Comprise means “contain“; compose is used to describe the parts that make up the whole.
One way to remember the distinction is to imagine a container you have to prise open in order to see all the little things inside. (I’m using the British spelling of the verb prize.) Or you can imagine a composite of little items making up the whole.
Another trick: ComprIse tells you what it’s compOsed of, and I comes before O in the alphabet.
Since comprise is the big container, the big thing comes first in the sentence: “The UAE (large body) comprises seven emirates (small states).” However, when using compose, in which the little things make up the whole, the little things come first: “Seven emirates (small states) compose the UAE (large body).”
From a pure, unadulterated grammar standpoint you can’t say “is comprised of,” as in “The UAE is comprised of seven emirates” (which would mean “includes” and therefore would imply there are more), although modern trends have blurred this rule. Personally, I wouldn’t go there.
Examples of Comprise and Compose
- Bobby the boa constrictor’s favorite lunch comprises a mouse, an ocelot, a canary, and a shoe.
- A mouse, an ocelot, a canary, and a shoe compose Bobby the boa constrictor’s favorite lunch.
- Bobby the boa constrictor’s favorite lunch is composed of a mouse, an ocelot, a canary, and a shoe.
One last example
- I want to remind you to check out my course, “Wake Up Your Prose: Description Unpacked,” which comprises 8 modules, 8 exercises, and 8 worksheets. The course is composed of audio files, slides, and pdfs, and is self-paced. The modules that compose the course are The Non-Intro; Method Writing; Description Basics; The Art of Storytelling; Show; Tell; Analogy, Metaphor, and Simile; and the Non-Conclusion.
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