RE: "comprises" alternatives - "consists of" vs. "includes"

Subject: RE: "comprises" alternatives - "consists of" vs. "includes"
From: Andrew Warren <awarren -at- synaptics -dot- com>
To: Monique Semp <monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net>, TechWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 30 May 2012 22:15:24 +0000

Monique Semp [monique -dot- semp -at- earthlink -dot- net] wrote:

> As has been discussed numerous times on this list (and mentioned in the recent “Words
> That Are Often Misused” thread), it’s best to avoid using “comprises” because many
> people will think the correct usage is wrong.

No, that's not it. The reason to avoid the word is that readers may misunderstand you.

Fortunately, it's hard to write an ambiguous sentence describing the relationship between
whole and parts -- mostly because the whole is usually singular and the parts are usually
plural -- so if you forget and accidentally use "comprise" or "compose", it'll probably be
ok. Your readers will figure out what you mean by context, even if they didn't know before
they read your sentence whether parts comprise the whole or compose it.

> But some of the alternatives can be misunderstood, too. For example, if I read something
> that says, “the selection pool includes the days outlined in red in Figure 2,” I tend to think
> that additional days might also be included or could be included in some cases. After all,
> “includes” does not imply “includes ONLY”.

One obvious solution is to write "includes only" when that's what you mean.

> Instead, I’d go with, “the selection pool consists of the days outlined in red in Figure 2.”
> The “consist” word does seem to mean “to be made up of ONLY those things that we’re
> about to list.”
>
> So my question is, is this overthinking the situation or is it (as it seems to me) an important
> usage difference between “consists of” and “includes”?

Not so much a usage difference as a difference in the dictionary definition. Like "is" and
"contains", the two words have different meanings.

-Andrew

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References:
"comprises" alternatives - "consists of" vs. "includes": From: Monique Semp

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