compose, comprise. Compose means “to make up” or “to constitute.” Comprise means “to be composed of” or “to consist of.” The American Digest System comprises nine units and a current supplement (or is composed of). Nine units and a current supplement compose the American Digest System (or are comprised in).

I just noticed that "pose" in comPOSE is present tense. But PRISE in comPRISE is French past participle. What extent does PRISE explain the above Modern English meanings of comPRISE? PRISE means "taken" or "seized" in French.

Just curious why comPRISE was formed with French past participle of comprendre, not present tense. This makes me guess Modern English meanings of comPRISE are related to PRISE?

Bahrych, Merino. Legal Writing and Analysis in a Nutshell 5th edition (2017). 357.

  • Many English verbs take their form from Latin passive participles; (com)pose is one example (the Latin present stem is pon). French comprendre, compris is literally ‘take together’, and thus ‘include’, which makes more sense to me than the other modern French sense ‘understand’! Nov 14, 2020 at 17:56
  • @AntonSherwood English inherited the French "comprehension" and kept its meaning. This should help to make sense out of the meaning of compris which was by the way already there in the Latin comprehendere.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 18, 2020 at 15:08
  • etymonline.com/word/comprise
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 15, 2020 at 1:10

2 Answers 2


Comprise indeed didn't pick comprendre but the past participle compris as its basis.

Comprendre means according to its Latin etymology comprehendere "to take together".

Old French had both comprehender and comprendre verbs with various meanings including "to grasp, to understand" which gave one of the modern meanings of the French comprendre, but also to seize/invade (lost in modern French) and to contain/include which is alive in both French and the English "comprise".

Comprise isn't a unique case of past participle derivation. Here are a few examples:

Still from -prendre verbs:

  • to reprise, French past part. repris vs reprendre (take back)
  • to surprise, French p.p. surpris vs surprendre (same meaning)

From -faire verbs:

  • to defeat, from old French desfait (now défait) instead of défaire.
  • to forfeit, French forfait instead of forfaire.
  • to counterfeit, French contrefait vs contrefaire.

Other stems:

  • to remise, French p.p. remis instead of the infinitive remettre (send back).
  • to corrupt, from the Latin past. part. corruptus instead of infinitive corrumpere (French corrompre)

Your etymology is not exact; "comprise" does come from French, but the French word at the origin is "compris(e)", past participle of "comprendre". As to the French word "explaining" the English, you can't indulge in such characterizations without quoting them and making clear what you intend to convey thereby. The meaning of the word "comprendre" can only provide certain clues; for instance the meaning "to grasp with the mind" is obsolete and insofar as that goes, "comprendre is certainly no "explanation". However, in the sense "include, contain", it is true that one of the meanings of "comprendre" is quite similar in French.

(Etymology from the SOED)

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