Comprise: grammar

‘A military tribunal is comprised of members of the military’, or ‘A military tribunal comprises members of the military’?

‘The set is comprised of dynamite, det cord, and ordinary household bleach’, or ‘The set is comprises dynamite, det cord, and ordinary household bleach’?

Is it ‘comprised of’, or ‘comprises’?

I thought a military tribunal is composed of members of the military, and that members of the military (specifically, This Guy, That Guy, and The Other Guy) comprise the tribunal.

Upon looking it up, I find a cite that explains

Thanks. That’s what I thought.

I heard the first example on CNN this morning, and it sounded strange.

Comprise (comprises, comprised of) is simply a verb used by people most frequently in the passive.

Simplistically stated, Passive formation is “past tense”, often with a preposition to describe the actor (but emphasis is taken away from the actor and placed toward the thing or event being acted upon).

The description of passive stated by me is always more fun when stated (by me) in the passive.

It’s not a question of active or passive voice. “Comprise” is similar to “include” or “contain”. “Compose” is similar to “make up” or “constitute”. Parts compose the whole, or the whole is composed of parts. The whole comprises parts. It’s rare to say the parts are comprised by the whole, but would be correct. The OED listed an example of this.

Unfortunately one often hears “comprised” said where “composed” would make more sense, perhaps because the words sound similar.

Sadly, one of the earlier uses of “comprised” where “composed” would make more sense is attributed to Jimmy Carter, who is generally pretty careful with his grammar. Thus I was pleased to read “comprised” used correctly in his book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid the other day.

The word has, in my opinion, been ruined by misuse. I won’t use it either way. There is no shortage of alternatives.