Compose versus Comprise

Lesson: When to use “compose” and “comprise” in a sentence

Compose means to “make up” or, as is the Merriam-Webster definition, to “form the substance of” something.

Example: To me, five cookies compose dinner. In other words, five cookies “make up” dinner.

Comprise means “to be made up” of something.

Example: To me, dinner comprises five cookies. In other words, dinner is “made up” of five cookies.

Compose versus Comprise
Let’s compare these words side by side to see how they really work, using an example we’re all familiar with.

The United States of America comprises fifty states.
Fifty states compose The United States of America.

The big difference between compose and comprise is the idea of “the whole and its parts.” When you use comprise, the whole comes before the parts in the sentence. When you use compose, the parts come before the whole. In the example above, the “whole” is The United States of America, and the “parts” are the fifty states.

Let’s look at the sentences again with this in mind.

The United States of America (whole) comprises fifty states (parts).
Fifty states (parts) compose The United States of America (whole).


Let’s get more practice with a quiz. The answers are below.

1. Six kittens ______ the cat’s litter.

2. The band _____ five players.

3. The test _____ thirty questions.

4. Lots of sugary goodness _____ the delicious cake.

5. The cookie _____ flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and other ingredients.

6. Sewage gas, rotten garbage, and wet dogs ______ that awful stench.

Answers. 1. compose 2. comprises 3. comprises 4. compose 5. comprises 6. compose

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