If you are sick and tired of struggling to figure out the difference between comprise and compose, then you have come to the right place. The first step in understanding the differences is to understand their definitions.
Let's start off by looking at these two words and their definitions. By doing so, you will get a foundation of what they mean by themselves, before we get into anything too complicated.
Comprise, in its simplest form, means to contain. For example, you could say that "The farm comprises ten cows, three horses, five sheep, and four pigs." In other words, you are saying "The farm contains ten cows, three horses, five sheep, and four pigs."
However, it would be incorrect if you said "Ten cows, three horses, five sheep, and four pigs comprise the farm." If you are using the word "comprise," the whole must come first. The whole-the farm-must come earlier in the sentence than the parts-cows, horses, sheep, and pigs. Let's look at one more example in order to make this statement clear.
The class is the whole and the students are the parts. Therefore, in order for "comprise" to be used, the whole - the class - needs to appear earlier in the sentence than the students - which are the parts.
Now that we have uncovered the meaning of comprise, do you think that you can figure out when you should use the word compose? Unlike comprise, compose means "to make up." It is similar to the word comprise, but it has this distinct meaning. We have given you another clue; therefore, do you now know when to use the word compose?
That's right! You use the word compose when the part comes before the whole in a sentence. Let's go back to our two examples from the first section in order to illustrate the difference. It is correct to say "Ten cows, three horses, five sheep, and four pigs compose the farm." However, it is incorrect to say "The farm is composed of ten cows, three horses, five sheep, and four pigs."
In terms of our education based sentence, the correct version is "16 boys and 12 girls compose the class" not "The class is composed of 16 boys and 12 girls."
Basically, these two words are the opposite of one another. Compose is used when the part comes before the whole, and comprise is used when the whole comes before the part.
While we are discussing these two words, there is another important component to bring up. Often, we hear the terms "is comprised of" and "is composed of." Many grammar guides actually suggest that "is comprised of" is incorrect. When you think about it, it makes sense. It does not make sense to say "is contained of," but it does make sense to say "is made up of."
However, "is comprised of" is often used, although it is incorrect. Suggestions have been made that this rule may eventually die out.