Usage and Grammar

Q. I have run across the phrase “comprised of” multiple times in a book I’m editing. Depending on context, Google Docs wants me to use “composed” or “consisting” or “comprises” or whatever fits. I know M-W says that while the phrase is not technically incorrect, it does sometimes receive scrutiny. Does CMOS have an official standpoint on its use? Thanks!

A. See CMOS 5.250, under “comprise; compose”: “Use with care. To comprise is ‘to consist 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}. The phrase is comprised of, though increasingly common, remains nonstandard. Instead, try is composed of or consists of.” Another option: “is made up of.”

Some of the decisions an editor makes will always be directed at other editors—or at readers who think like editors. “Comprise” is one of those words that, if you misuse it, risks drawing the attention of anyone who pays close attention to dictionaries and usage manuals (not to mention whatever their screens are telling them). So take the hint from Google and revise to avoid “comprised of”—except, for example, in a direct quotation or as an example of dialogue that reflects how many people actually use the term.