A quick google search shows that you can use "comprise" in the following ways:

The hotel comprises 58 rooms. or A car comprises an engine, a transmission, a body, a chassis, etc.

I know that one should not say "A cell is comprised of..."

But what about: "The nucleus, the mitochondria, the cell membrane, the cytoplasm, etc.... comprise a cell" or "59,000 attendees comprised the audience of Elmo's speech"?

Is it OK to use "comprise" when saying that the parts "comprise" the whole?

  • 2
    Did you check both meaning of comprise in the dictionaries?
    – fev
    Sep 11, 2023 at 7:20
  • 'S comprises a, b, c ...' AND 'a, b, c ... comprise S' are both legitimate usages, but the second (= 'constitute' / 'together make up') is more rarely used than the first (= 'consists of') and disfavoured by some. Sep 11, 2023 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


From the usage note at AHD:

Usage Note: The traditional rule states that the whole comprises the parts and the parts compose the whole. In strict usage: The Union comprises 50 states. Fifty states compose (or make up) the Union. Even though many writers maintain this distinction, comprise is often used in place of compose, especially in the passive: The Union is comprised of 50 states. Our surveys show that opposition to this usage has abated but has not disappeared. In the 1960s, 53 percent of the Usage Panel found this usage unacceptable; by 1996, the proportion objecting had declined to 35 percent; and by 2011, it had fallen a bit more, to 32 percent. See Usage Note at include. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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