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英语语法:145 “Comprise” versus “Compose”

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Grammar Girl here.

Today Bonnie Trenga will help us boldly go where many grammarians have gone before: deep into the dictionary to discover the true meaning and correct usage of the word “comprise.” Some of you may feel that this is an alien word to be avoided at all costs—because it is tricky1. Others will be more willing to communicate with this strange species. Helping2 us on our journey will be an odd mnemonic device.

The Meaning of “Comprise”

It seems simple enough: “to comprise” means “to contain” (1), as in “The house comprises seven rooms.” In other words, this house has or contains seven rooms. When you use “comprise,” you’re talking about all the parts that make up something. Usually. More on that a little later.

The important thing to remember when you’re using the word “comprise” is that the item that is the whole shebang comes first in the sentence; second come the items that are its parts. For example, you might say, “A full pack comprises 52 cards.” The pack is the whole shebang, so it comes first in the sentence. It would be wrong to say, “Fifty-two cards comprise a full pack.” Likewise, America comprises 50 states, not fifty states comprise America. In this sentence, America is the whole shebang, so it comes first in the sentence. The whole comprises the parts.

The Meaning of “Compose”

The fly in the ointment3 as far as the word “comprise” goes is the similar-sounding word “compose,” which means “to make up,” as in “Many ethnic4 groups compose our nation.”

Notice in this sentence that the parts come before the whole. If you wanted to start the sentence with the words “our nation,” guess which verb you’d have to use instead? Our friend “comprise”: “Our nation comprises many ethnic groups.” So, the parts compose the whole, but the whole comprises the parts.

“Is Comprised Of” and “Is Composed Of”

Now let’s talk about the phrases “is comprised of” and “is composed of.” One of these is allowed, and one is not. The one you can say is “is composed of,” so you could say, “Our nation is composed of many ethnic groups.” On the other hand, most grammar sources I checked (2, 3, 4) agree that “is comprised of” is an incorrect phrase. Just as you can’t say, “The house includes of seven rooms,” you can’t say, “The house is comprised of seven rooms” (5). You have to say, “The house comprises seven rooms.”

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (6), however, has noticed an interesting trend. In 1965, 54% of the usage panel disapproved5 of the phrase “is comprised of,” whereas in 2005, 65% approved, which I take to mean that only 35% disapproved. As with a number of constructions we’ve discussed here on the “Grammar Girl” podcast, they say “the traditional distinction may be destined6 to fall by the wayside.” This guide does suggest that you observe the traditional rule though.

How to Use “Comprise”

At the beginning of this show, we said that “comprise” means “contain,” but in her book Woe7 Is I the respected grammar writer Patricia O'Connor muddies the issue when she lists “to include” as a definition (7). This suggests that there could be more parts to the whole, contradicting the idea that when you use “comprise” you’re talking about all the parts.

If we use this definition, does it mean we could say, “The house comprises at least five rooms”? It would seem to make sense if we substitute the word “include” in this sentence. “The house includes at least five rooms.” Perhaps Fowler’s, another trusted resource, can help us. It states “the whole comprises all the parts.” The word “all” there seems pretty definitive8.

On the other hand, the American Heritage Dictionary reveals that “comprise” means “to consist of,” to be composed of,” “to include,” and “to contain” (8). It goes on to clarify matters in its definition of “include”: “Comprise usually implies that all of the components9 are stated” (9). Notice that it said “usually.” It seems that to use “comprise” you must be talking about all the parts that make up something, but perhaps occasionally you can use it if more parts might be lurking10 somewhere.

A Mnemonic to Help You

Now it’s time for that odd mnemonic device we promised. It’s not pretty, but it’ll help you use “comprise” correctly. Remember the phrase “whole comprises the parts.” Taking the first letters of these four words, we come up with WC TP: Water Closet Toilet Paper. Whole Comprises The Parts. Hope that helps. If not, remember to check your dictionary. It will include an example or two to guide you. And no one will mind if you avoid “comprise.” Just say, “made up of.”

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier

This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com, and I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of the forthcoming book The Grammar Devotional.

 


点击收听单词发音收听单词发音  

1 tricky 9fCzyd     
adj.狡猾的,奸诈的;(工作等)棘手的,微妙的
参考例句:
  • I'm in a rather tricky position.Can you help me out?我的处境很棘手,你能帮我吗?
  • He avoided this tricky question and talked in generalities.他回避了这个非常微妙的问题,只做了个笼统的表述。
2 helping 2rGzDc     
n.食物的一份&adj.帮助人的,辅助的
参考例句:
  • The poor children regularly pony up for a second helping of my hamburger. 那些可怜的孩子们总是要求我把我的汉堡包再给他们一份。
  • By doing this, they may at times be helping to restore competition. 这样一来, 他在某些时候,有助于竞争的加强。
3 ointment 6vzy5     
n.药膏,油膏,软膏
参考例句:
  • Your foot will feel better after the application of this ointment.敷用这药膏后,你的脚会感到舒服些。
  • This herbal ointment will help to close up your wound quickly.这种中草药膏会帮助你的伤口很快愈合。
4 ethnic jiAz3     
adj.人种的,种族的,异教徒的
参考例句:
  • This music would sound more ethnic if you played it in steel drums.如果你用钢鼓演奏,这首乐曲将更具民族特色。
  • The plan is likely only to aggravate ethnic frictions.这一方案很有可能只会加剧种族冲突。
5 disapproved 3ee9b7bf3f16130a59cb22aafdea92d0     
v.不赞成( disapprove的过去式和过去分词 )
参考例句:
  • My parents disapproved of my marriage. 我父母不赞成我的婚事。 来自《简明英汉词典》
  • She disapproved of her son's indiscriminate television viewing. 她不赞成儿子不加选择地收看电视。 来自《简明英汉词典》
6 destined Dunznz     
adj.命中注定的;(for)以…为目的地的
参考例句:
  • It was destined that they would marry.他们结婚是缘分。
  • The shipment is destined for America.这批货物将运往美国。
7 woe OfGyu     
n.悲哀,苦痛,不幸,困难;int.用来表达悲伤或惊慌
参考例句:
  • Our two peoples are brothers sharing weal and woe.我们两国人民是患难与共的兄弟。
  • A man is well or woe as he thinks himself so.自认祸是祸,自认福是福。
8 definitive YxSxF     
adj.确切的,权威性的;最后的,决定性的
参考例句:
  • This book is the definitive guide to world cuisine.这本书是世界美食的权威指南。
  • No one has come up with a definitive answer as to why this should be so.至于为什么该这样,还没有人给出明确的答复。
9 components 4725dcf446a342f1473a8228e42dfa48     
(机器、设备等的)构成要素,零件,成分; 成分( component的名词复数 ); [物理化学]组分; [数学]分量; (混合物的)组成部分
参考例句:
  • the components of a machine 机器部件
  • Our chemistry teacher often reduces a compound to its components in lab. 在实验室中化学老师常把化合物分解为各种成分。
10 lurking 332fb85b4d0f64d0e0d1ef0d34ebcbe7     
潜在
参考例句:
  • Why are you lurking around outside my house? 你在我房子外面鬼鬼祟祟的,想干什么?
  • There is a suspicious man lurking in the shadows. 有一可疑的人躲在阴暗中。 来自《现代英汉综合大词典》
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TAG标签:   英语语法  Comprise  versus  Compose
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