What is the difference between "compose" and "comprise"?

I try to avoid the use of comprise and compose when I am using English language at all costs as I just cannot seem to use them correctly.

Can anyone explain their use?

  • Mick's Dirty Tricks #42: Learn to use compose and forget about comprise.
    – Mick
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:47
  • What that means @Mick Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:50
  • 4
    It means that comprise is not used all that often outside of technical contexts. And here's another good trick: don't accept an answer a mere 20 minutes after you ask a question.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:52
  • Roger that Sir ;-) Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:53
  • 3
    I was being facetious. If you learn how to arrange your sentences so that you can always use compose, you won't need to worry about having to learn how to use comprise. I never use it, and I do this for a lot of other words. You might call me lazy, but I'd rather know how to use a few words well than a lot of words badly.
    – Mick
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


Comprise, verb

  • to be made up of (something) : to include or consist of (something)
  • to make up or form (something)

The pizza comprises 10 slices.

Compose, verb

  • to come together to form or make (something)

Ten slices compose the pizza.

It's important to remember that the parts or elements compose the whole, and the whole comprises the parts or elements.

When to use each one depends on the order in which you say/write the whole and the parts/elements.

That being said, as others have commented on, it is a general rule of thumb to rearrange the sentence so that compose is always used.

The pizza is composed of 10 slices.

  • 1
    I think you've explained the differences fairly well, but it's worth noting that comprises is generally used in more technical contexts, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone using that word to describe a pizza the way you did. Moreover, compose is unlikely to be used to describe a pizza as well. These examples may serve a point, but they have a very contrived ring to them.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:49
  • 1
    compose as used above more commonly occurs in the passive: "The pizza was composed of ten pieces" or more likely "The dinner was composed of six courses"
    – eques
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:00

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