Hi I am talking with my English-native friend and my friend used the word "Comprise".

So I asked her "What is the meaning of the word Comprise?"

But I think comprise could have multiple meaning depending on its contexts, thus I think what is a meaning of the word Comprise? or just without article, What is meaning of the word Comprise?

I am confusing which one would be heard natural and adequate to Native speakers.

Any hint?

marked as duplicate by Andrew Leach May 5 '18 at 10:31

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  • If you don't recognise the word 'comprise' at all, "What does 'comprise' mean?" is idiomatic, though "What's the meaning of the word 'comprise'?" is also fine. These questions would not pragmatically be seen as insisting that there is only going to be a single sense in use generally. With your context, they default to "What's the meaning of the word 'comprise' as you've just used it?" If you know at least one meaning for 'comprise', but it doesn't seem to fit, you could actually ask "What's the meaning of the word 'comprise' as you've just used it?" / A standalone "What's the meaning of ... – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '18 at 8:22
  • the word 'comprise'?" (ie [1] asked by a person wanting to learn some new-to-them vocabulary) (or [2] asked by a teacher, say) is asking (in case [1]) in the hope that there is a single definition, but does not preclude (and is not made 'incorrect' by) the answer "It can mean A or B". The teacher in case [2] would welcome the fuller answer. – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '18 at 8:30

Consider by analogy, if I ask "May I have the apple?" You might think that I should have asked, "May I have an apple?" since there are many apples in the world and it shouldn't matter which one I receive. But if you are holding one apple, and it is the only apple within sight, then using the definite article "the" is entirely appropriate. I am asking for that specific apple, and none other. I could add "May I have the apple that you are holding?" to be perfectly clear, but I don't necessarily need to.

It is the same with the situation you describe, where you ask "What is the meaning of word X?" where X certainly has multiple possible meanings across all possible uses in speech and writing. However, it will be understood that you are referring to the one specific meaning currently in scope. If you did want to be more clear, you could add, "What is the meaning of word X as you have just used it?" but it is not necessary.

  • A teacher etc could validly ask "What is the meaning of the word 'comprise'?" when the word (a) hasn't been mentioned so far and (b) is well known to have two conflicting definitions. – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '18 at 8:34

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