I agree with UDS, his example hits it on the head. “Comprise” means either (transitive verb) to include, or (intrasitive verb) to consist or be made up of. The word is often misused as its exact opposite.
I am personally of the old school that says “comprise” should mean only “include” but never used as “comprised of.” The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with me. However, I am apparently an old fuck because authorities on the topicsay that this has been an accepted alternate use for perhaps hundreds of years.
There are a handful of words that came to be used as the opposite of their original meanings. I get beaten up in word usage threads for objecting.
“A descriptivist is someone who says that if enough people make the same mistake, it’s not a mistake anymore.”
Comprised means a little bit more than “include”, I think; it implies a degree of comprehensiveness or completeness. You can say that Great Britain includes Wales but not, I think, that Great Britain comprises Wales; once you say “comprise” you’re going to list all the components.
So, "the house comprises three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen"is fine, but “the house comprises two bathrooms” is not (unless it’s a very unusual house!).
UDS: I can’t say you’re wrong, but that isn’t quite how I understood it. I can see how “comprise” might often be used with a comprehensive or complete list of components, but I don’t believe that’s part of the definition.
The word I learned to compare with “comprise” was “embrace.” So, Great Britain comprises (embraces) Scotland, England, and Wales. The statement is valid, even though it leaves out Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands and whatnot.
I’m not at all surprised at the Merriam-Webster citation. I’m pretty sure their usage notes show wholehearted approval for every singe disputed usage. I was a bit shocked that the usually more restrained American Heritage usage pannel gave their sanction.
Well, not to pick nits or anything, but Northern Ireland, etc are not part of Great Britain. Great Britain is just the island made up of England, Scotland and Wales, which is why I chose it for my example.
I still thinkt that “comprise” introduces a list which, if not absolutely exhaustive, is at least substantially complete. “The forest comprises oaks” would not be correct of a forest which contained signifcant quantities of oak, ash, beech, larch and elm, but “the forest includes oaks” would be fine.