Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To include, contain, to be composed or made up of, as the whole comprises all its parts. 2. To make up, to constitute, as the parts of anything comprise the whole.
Notes: Today's Good Word has two senses, the first of which is the antonym of compose. while the second is a (near) synonym. Lack of awareness of the second meaning has led to the conclusion that in expressions like this, "The book is comprised of 12 chapters," comprised is misused. In fact, it is merely the passive participle of today's word correctly used in meaning No. 2, which has been around since at least the end of the 18th century.
In Play: Use comprise when you mean "contain" but wish to imply strict, precisely numbered or defined limits: "I think your plan comprises three discrete points that we should deal with independently" [not is comprised of]. We may also use this verb in the opposite direction, so to speak, meaning "make up": "Two of the three parts comprising your plan are already moot issues."
Word History: Today's Good Word is from the French compris, the past participle of comprendre "to include". This verb is the French version of Latin comprehendere from con "(together) with" + prehendere "to grasp". Prehendere may be broken down into pre+hend-ere, whose root, hend- comes from the PIE root ghe(n)d- "take, seize" with the Fickle N that comes and goes in Indo-European languages for reasons only it knows. Without the N it turns up in English get and guess, an attempt at getting it. (We are happy that William Strockbine, recently retired from SUNY Stony Brook, seized the moment and reminded us of the problems associated with today's word.)
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