compose vs. comprise (2)

Have trouble remembering the difference between the words “compose” and “comprise”? You’re not alone. Because these words are so similar in how they sound and how they’re spelled, it can be hard to remember how they differ. In fact, many people end up using these words interchangeably either because they forget when to use each word or because they don’t know that these words actually mean different things.

One of the reasons that it’s so hard to remember the difference between these words is that we use both words to describe how the parts of an object relate to the whole.

We use “comprise” when we introduce a whole object and then describe the parts that make up the object. For example, we would say that a particular salad (the whole) comprises 13 ingredients (the parts). In short, we use “comprise” like we use “contain” (e.g., “The salad contains 13 ingredients”).

In comparison, we use “compose” when we first refer to the parts of an object and then refer to the whole object itself. That is, we would say that 13 ingredients (the parts) compose the salad (the whole).   In sum, we use “compose” the way we use “make up” (e.g., “Thirteen ingredients make up the salad”).

A lot of people like to use the “X is composed/comprised of Y” sentence format for both words. Based on what we’ve talked about above, though, you can see that “X is composed of Y” is a valid way of writing a sentence, but “X is comprised of Y” isn’t. After all, saying “The salad is made up of 13 ingredients” works, but saying “The salad is contained of 13 ingredients” doesn’t make any sense.

Have any lingering questions about the difference between “compose” and “comprise”? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll do our best to incorporate your questions into one of our upcoming posts.

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“Compose” versus “comprise”
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