English grammar can be tricky, and it grows even more difficult when you receive conflicting messages about whether something is correct or not. If we take a look at the phrase “comprised of,” many people use it, but does that make it correct?
It is technically incorrect to say “comprised of.” The definition of the word “comprise” makes the preposition “of” redundant and unnecessary. Instead, we can use grammatically sound alternatives like “comprises,” “composed of,” or “made up of” to discuss the parts of a whole.
Read on to learn more about the phrase “comprised of” and how you can stay grammatically correct when using the word “comprise.”
What Does “Comprised of” Mean?
On its own, the word “comprise” is a verb that means to compose, constitute, or include (source). “Of” actually adds no additional meaning to the phrase given the core definition of the word “comprised.”
Separately, the word “of” is a preposition that indicates relationships between things. We commonly use “of” to start a prepositional phrase, especially between nouns or after adjectives.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Comprised Of”?
Even though it is not grammatically correct to say “comprised of,” many people still use this phrase. If we say the whole “is comprised of” the parts instead, we incorrectly use passive voice to apply the word “comprised” as a participial adjective.
To use the word “comprise” correctly, we need to use it as a verb to discuss how the whole comprises, or includes, the parts or smaller aspects.
Some people strongly feel that it is incorrect and that we should not use the phrase at all. However, not everyone holds such a prescriptivist view of grammar, which is why you may get conflicting advice on whether or not it is correct to say “comprised of.”
Other people feel that we should be able to use this phrase, even if it is grammatically incorrect, as long as the sentence’s meaning or idea is clear.
If you do choose to use “comprised of” in your communication, make sure you prepare for some potential criticism. Depending on the circumstances, someone might correct you if you use “comprised of.”
Think of it this way: Instead of saying that the whole “is comprised of” the parts, you want to say that the whole “comprises” the parts. In this sense, you can swap the word “comprises” with the word “includes” to check if it still makes sense and sounds right.
We use the passive voice when we phrase sentences so that the subject receives the action of the verb (source). In this case, the object of the preposition acts upon the subject.
While passive voice is not grammatically incorrect on its own, it is indirect and can lead to wordy and confusing sentences. Let’s take a quick look at some examples of the active versus passive voice.
|Active Voice||Passive Voice|
|We will remember Grandma Carol for her kind smile and delicious cooking.||Grandma Carol will be remembered for her kind smile and delicious cooking.|
|The children ate the cookies.||The cookies were eaten by the children.|
|The complex comprises 10 apartment units.||The complex is comprised of 10 apartment units.|
In general, we advise that you avoid using passive voice in formal speaking and writing contexts except in certain scientific fields. When you use the phrase “comprised of,” it is important to remember that you are using the passive voice.
How Do You Use “Comprised of”?
When discussing what components make up something, people often use “comprised of” as a predicate adjective.
A predicate adjective is a descriptive word or phrase that we apply in the predicate of a sentence (source). If you would like to use “comprised of” as a predicate adjective, then the subject of your sentence will be the “whole” that contains smaller parts.
To use “comprised of” in this way, you’ll need to begin your sentence with a mention or description of the subject. Then you’ll use a linking verb like “is” or “are” to connect your subject to the phrase “comprised of.”
To finish the sentence, you’ll include the relevant details to describe what actually comprises the subject. Here is a quick example: “My history book is comprised of 12 chapters.”
When you use the word “comprised” in this way, you’re actually using it as a participial adjective. The linking verb of the sentence is “is,” and the words that follow, “comprised of 12 chapters,” describe the book. We’ll take a closer look at participial adjectives in a few sections.
When Can You Use “Comprised of”?
You can use “comprised of” to refer to something in the past, present, or future tense.
Since we use this phrase to discuss the parts of a whole, we can talk about what something used to be comprised of (past), what something is currently comprised of (present), or what something will be comprised of (future).
Regardless of the tense, the phrase “comprised of” will not change. Instead, you’ll just adjust the linking verb to indicate the proper tense.
You can see three examples of this in the following table:
|The school will be comprised of 25 classrooms.||Future Tense|
|Our district is comprised of 15,000 households.||Present Tense|
|My childhood home was comprised of a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and two bedrooms.||Past Tense|
We can use “comprised of” with any of the tenses to discuss the various parts of a whole.
In What Context Can You Use “Comprised Of”?
It will be best to apply this phrase in informal contexts with close friends and family. To avoid making a grammatical mistake in front of a less-than-forgiving audience, we advise that you use “comprised of” in informal, casual situations with people you trust.
In more relaxed situations, it’s less important to follow strict grammatical rules, as long as your message is still clear.
Using “Comprised of” in a Full Sentence
When we use “comprised of” in a full sentence, we must do so to explain how a greater whole is composed of or includes smaller aspects. We do this most commonly by inserting the phrase as a predicate adjective.
Let’s take a quick look at these examples:
- The USA is comprised of 50 states.
- Their family is comprised of the parents, two daughters, and one son.
- Her thesis was comprised of years of research studies.
- Omelets are comprised of eggs, milk, and the meats or vegetables of your choice.
- Board games are often comprised of a board, game pieces, and cards.
We have included a specific subject in each of these examples that comprises smaller parts or aspects. They are “The USA,” “Their family,” “Her thesis,” “Omelets,” and “Board games.”
Then, we included a linking verb and used the phrase “comprised of” to lead to a description of the smaller parts or aspects that make up the whole. In these examples, we used “comprised” as a participial adjective that we follow with a prepositional phrase beginning with “of.”
Remember that when you use “comprised of,” you use the passive voice. This doesn’t make it outright incorrect, but it does influence your audience’s interpretation of your message.
When Not to Use “Comprised Of”
You should avoid using “comprised of” in formal situations that demand the active voice, conciseness, and clarity.
Essentially, you don’t want to use this phrase in mixed company or formal situations. It could be awkward and possibly embarrassing in these environments if someone were to correct your usage.
As an example, you wouldn’t want to use this phrase while presenting a formal speech to an audience. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to say “comprised of” when speaking with your colleagues or superiors at work.
Along with these circumstances, you should avoid using “comprised of” in your writing. Instead, you can use one of a few easy alternative phrases.
What Can You Use Instead of “Comprised Of’?
You can use “comprises,” “composed of,” or “made up of” instead of “comprised of.” Each of these alternatives is grammatically correct, and they are identical in meaning.
We provided a few sample sentences in the table below that include “comprised of.” Then, we revised each sentence using one of the alternatives we’ve mentioned above.
|Grammatically Incorrect||Grammatically Correct|
|The Museum of Natural Science is comprised of a planetarium, a biology lab, and a vast gallery of fossils.||The Museum of Natural Science comprises a planetarium, a biology lab, and a vast gallery of fossils.|
|The US government is comprised of three chambers: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.||The US government is composed of three chambers: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.|
|Atoms are comprised of electrons, neutrons, and protons.||Atoms are made up of electrons, neutrons, and protons.|
You can easily apply any of these alternatives in place of “comprised of.” We suggest that you practice using these alternatives so that you won’t be inclined to use “comprised of” in the wrong situation when the time comes.
Participles are words that we form from verbs that function as adjectives or nouns within a sentence. When we have a participle that serves as an adjective within a sentence, we call it a participial adjective.
Participial adjectives can sound confusing at first, but you should start to see a trend if you look at a few examples.
- He woke the snoring cat.
- The mother picked up the crying child.
- I love to eat glazed donuts.
- We picked up the mangled branches in the yard.
In each of the examples above, we included a clear noun (cat, child, donuts, branches) and an adjective right before each noun (snoring, crying, glazed, mangled). Each of these adjectives is actually a participial adjective since we form each from a base verb (snore, cry, glaze, mangle).
When we use the phrase “comprised of,” we are actually using the word “comprised” as a participial adjective. Let’s take a look at the following example:
- The biology course is comprised of 12 units.
Here, we see that the subject is “The biology course” and the verb is “is.” Do you notice how the phrase “comprised of 12 units” describes the subject?
Even though “comprise” is a verb, “comprised” becomes an adjective when we follow the word with a prepositional phrase that begins with “of.” In this situation, the prepositional phrase works as an adjective complement.
Adjective complements are noun clauses or prepositional phrases that modify an adjective or add additional meaning to it.
Let’s go over some sample sentences to practice identifying the adjective complements.
|Jamie is anxious about starting the new school year.||Prepositional Phrase|
|Max is terrified of ghosts.||Prepositional Phrase|
|Ian’s parents were upset when he got home late.||Noun Clause|
|Jaelyn was happy that she had a date to the dance.||Noun Clause|
|The night was comprised of dancing and talking.||Prepositional Phrase|
In each of these examples, we begin with a clear subject and a linking verb. Notice how the verb tense can vary. We have included past tense, present tense, and future tense examples.
After the linking verb, you’ll find an adjective. The adjectives are “anxious,” “terrified,” “upset,” “happy,” “sad,” and “comprised.” Then, we added an adjective complement after each adjective to provide further information.
When we use the phrase “comprised of,” we take the verb “comprise” and change it into a participial adjective: “comprised.” Then, the word “of” begins the prepositional phrase that serves as the adjective complement. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
To learn more about prepositional phrases and adjective complements, you can check out the article “Beneficial for or Beneficial to: What’s the Difference?”
“Comprised of” is a complicated phrase muddied by years of disagreement. Strict grammarians note that it is incorrect to use this phrase and argue that we need to use “comprises” or “composed of” instead. Others believe that, due to decades of wide usage, we should accept the phrase “comprised of” into standard practice.
If you do use “comprised of,” someone may decide to correct your grammar. To avoid this, you can avoid using the phrase altogether, or you can use it in casual situations when you’re around close family and friends.