Get Yourself Composed (of)

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. ... Image via Wikipedia

The English language can be tricky—I’ve heard that it’s one of the hardest languages to learn. All of you English newbies can take solace, however, in the fact that plenty of native English speakers mess up frequently, especially when there are two words that are similar in spelling and meaning but nonetheless have a crucial difference.

In this case, I’m talking about compose vs. comprise. The good news is that one little gimmick can help you figure this one out once and for all.

Compose and comprise refer to the makeup or composition of something, so neither is incorrect to use, but the words around them change depending on which one you pick. For example, consider a softball team with 11 guys; you could describe the makeup of this team in two ways:

The softball team is composed of 11 players.

or …

The softball team comprises 11 players.

A similar example:

The team, composed of 11 players, is doing well.

or …

The team, comprising 11 players, is doing well.

The common mistake is to say or write comprised of, which is an improper melding of the two correct usages. An easy way to remember the correct forms is to think of the Os: composed has a second o, and is always followed by a word (of) that starts with o.

Class dismissed. =)

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