Monday, June 22, 2009

My grammar pet peeve

Mrs. Jean Green, AP English teacher extraordinaire at Brighton High School in Rochester NY, you taught me many things. You were a merciless editor who cut the flab off of our writing until only the juiciest, most dynamic writing remained. You made us memorize long passages from Shakespeare and recite them to the class. Your idea of a fun game was to make us go around the room reciting the first line of novels, which is why I'll never forget opening words of "Moby Dick." You once were so excited about your lecture that you yelled "orgasm" when you meant "organism" and a whole class of seniors fell to the floor laughing.

But the single most valuable thing you taught me? How to use the word "comprise" correctly, and how it's different from "compose."

Listen up, people. A group is composed of its members, but it comprises its members. As in, the team comprised players of all ages. The team was composed of players of all ages. The team is never, ever COMPRISED OF players of all ages. Comprise stands alone, and doesn't need "of" to follow it.

I see it misused so often, and by such accomplished writers, that I sometimes think (in a Rosanna Rosannadanna voice) hey! Mrs. Green! You got it wrong! How can the New York Times editors let it pass? But then I go somewhere - @APStylebook on Twitter, or to my trusty hard cover orange Chicago Manual of Style, and there it is in black and white. "Use these with care," says the Chicago Manual (15th edition) on page 207. "The phrase comprised of, though increasingly common, is poor usage."

So thanks to Mrs. Green for many things, but most of all for giving me a nervous tick around people who say "the committee is comprised of myself and some others." AAAAAGH!


  1. Comprised... yes, that does bug me. If you are grammatically challenged, or let’s face it, a grammatical snob who will catch the grammatical error in the title of this blog, you owe it to yourself to check out these grammatical pet peeves and tips at Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves

  2. Hi Mark, thanks for the note...but wait, are you telling me I have a grammatical error in the title of MY blog? If so, please enlighten me right away so I can fix it...I'll go crazy otherwise.


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