Writers use comprise and compose to convey a relationship between a whole and its parts. But the difference between the two words is essential for achieving precision of language. When communicating a relationship between a whole and its parts, one (the whole or parts) will be the subject of the sentence, and the other will be the direct object. The more correct verb to use depends on which role the whole and its parts play in the sentence.
- If the whole is the subject and its parts are the direct object, then the appropriate verb is comprise.
- If the parts are the subject and the whole is the direct object, then the appropriate verb is compose.
Shortly put, the whole comprise the parts, and the parts compose the whole. This arrangement should make sense if you think about the actual meanings of the two verbs. Comprise means to be made up of. The parts are not made up of the whole. Rather, it’s the other way around; the whole is made up of the parts. In similar fashion, compose means to create, constitute, or arrange. The whole doesn’t create its parts. Rather, the parts create the whole when they come together.
Thus, the example sentence in the cropped graphic above requires a revision. Constituent elements are the parts that make up the whole alloy, so compose is more appropriate here than comprise.