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The use of comprises in the sentence below caught my eye because altogether it indicates that the synod is composed of voting and non-voting members, and at the same time, “experts who cannot vote”. Does the second clause imply that the synod is composed only of those who cannot vote; is that comprehension or group, as the object of comprises, implicitly exhaustive? It is not clear to me exactly what is the grammatical import of “also comprises”, though it seems that it was included to rectify the incongruity, but fails to do so since “also” refers to the synod and not the “experts who cannot vote.”

“The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote.” (From The Guardian.)

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    This is a bad use of "comprises". "Contains" would express what the writer meant. To return to the word "comprise": The items comprise the whole. The whole consists of (not comprises) the items. Both "comprise" and "consist of" imply that the list of items is complete.
    – Rosie F
    Feb 7, 2021 at 7:22
  • Oh yes, I totally missed the misuse of “comprises”, so I especially appreciate your addressing my question. Thanks!
    – jokinjo
    Feb 7, 2021 at 7:38
  • @Rosie F 'The [whole] comprises [the items]' (eg "the country comprises twenty states") is fine. Check Lexico, Cambridge Dictionary, M-W .... Jan 21, 2022 at 15:18

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Interesting question. The best account may be that in the Oxford Dictionary, where there is a helpful discussion of the differences between comprise and include.

Usage: Comprise primarily means ‘consist of’, as in the country comprises twenty states. It can also mean ‘constitute or make up a whole’, as in this single breed comprises 50 per cent of the Swiss cattle population. When this sense is used in the passive (as in the country is comprised of twenty states), it is more or less synonymous with the first sense (the country comprises twenty states). This usage is part of standard English, but the construction comprise of, as in the property comprises of bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, is regarded as incorrect.

On the differences between comprise and include, see below:

Oxford Lexico

Usage: Include has a broader meaning than comprise. In the sentence the accommodation comprises 2 bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, the word comprise implies that there is no accommodation other than that listed. Include can be used in this way too, but it is also used in a non-restrictive way, implying that there may be other things not specifically mentioned that are part of the same category, as in the price includes a special welcome pack.

OxFord Lexico

From this standpoint, which is consistent with Cambridge and Merriam Webster, comprise introduces an exhaustive list. Otherwise, use include or contain.

In passing I note that comprised of, a phrase much used by pretentious British estate agents instead of comprise, is wrong, stemming from a confusion with composed of.

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  • Thanks for your help. It is heartening to see the line being held against pretentious (and ignorant and lazy) nonstandard usage of good words.
    – jokinjo
    Feb 8, 2021 at 11:34
  • Thanks for that encouragement. I was tempted to refer to illiterate estate agents but decided to be relatively nice - in the spirit of this site.
    – Anton
    Feb 8, 2021 at 11:54
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The use of "comprise" in your example is perfectly correct and corresponds to the original French "comprendre"; what @Rosie_F points out is a misuse, so common and dated in English that it is accepted (that doesn't make it correct though). The list following "comprise" is not necessarily exhaustive in your example because of the "also", which is an adverb affecting the verb of which "synod" is the subject and "the experts who cannot vote" is the object.

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  • so common and dated in English that it is accepted (that doesn't make it correct though). But that is precisely how usages become grammatical. Jan 21, 2022 at 16:19
  • @HighPerformanceMark not necessarily. It is common to see "would of" used for "would have", or "their" for "they're", or "then" for "than", but that doesn't make them grammatically correct. Even if these mistakes were perpetrated for billions of times, they are unlikely to become correct because for that to happen the correct counterpart should disappear and stop competing with them. The grammar/writing police ensures, for good or bad, that this doesn't happen. Jan 23, 2022 at 20:43

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