Comprise, compose or consist? A guide

A look at the differences among these similar, but distinct verbs.

OK, everybody, repeat after me: The whole comprises its parts. Bear this in mind as you read further.

The parts do not comprise the whole, nor is the whole comprised of the parts.

But the whole may be composed of—and even consist of or be made up of—the parts.

If this confuses you, take heart. Comprise looks a lot like compose and consist, but it doesn’t behave in the same way. And that explains why it is commonly misused.

Take a look at this string of examples:

The board of directors comprises 12 members.

That is, the whole (board) comprises the parts (members).

You could also say:

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