should be aware by now that I have done my utmost to eschew exegetical
pedantry in this column — not to mention periphrastic pomposity. So we
wouldn’t want my self-discipline to weaken at this late stage in our
linguistics game, would we?
And yet .
. . and yet . . .
comes a time when all good logophiles must struggle to their aching feet
and answer the barely audible call of
civilisation. A call, I might add, that is receding faster as we speak.
that just one look at the following list will have you deducing what’s
in the wind here:
know I’m not the first to bemoan the misuse of these words (and I sure
won’t be the last), but I can restrain myself no longer.
a for a short rant.
begin with the swelling miasma shrouding consist and comprise.
This misunderstanding ranks second only to that of one of my other
personal pet peeves: imply (speaker) versus infer
current situation is mainly the result of the mistaken formation of
comprise of on the analogy of consist of. So on a certain Web
site we meet
modern day countries did the Roman Empire comprise of?
at another site:
panel of translators comprise of at least 5 translators for each
site provides an exceptional mixture:
TFFO Premiership squad shall consist of 18 players and must comprise of
2 goalkeepers, 3 full-backs, 3 centre-backs, 6 midfielders and 4
Champions League squad shall consist of 18 players and must comprise of
2 goalkeepers, 6 defenders, 6 midfielders and 4 strikers.
Championship squad shall consist of 18 players and must comprise 2
goalkeepers, 6 defenders, 6 midfielders and 4 strikers.
particular game ended with a final goal score of consist of: 3
out of 3 and comprise: 1 out of 3.)
easiest way to preserve the correct usage is to remember that consist
of means “be composed of” and the preposition-less comprise
Pam Peters in her Cambridge Australian English Style Guide (ISBN:
0 521 57634 2, paperback) points out that a “mirror-image” meaning of
comprise now exists. It occurs when a sentence begins with the parts
rather than the whole:
meaning of 'comprise' . . . depends on whatever the writer makes its
examples make it clear:
book comprises three sections.
sections comprise the book.
question for the language antiquarians among us. Is there still a place
in modern English for consist in?
answer: only in very formal writing. According to Peters, the
distinction between consist in and consist of arose only
in the 19th century. She gives these examples:
argument consists in casting aspersions at all previous work in the
kit consists of scissors, thread and sewing cards.
examples show, the difference is one of conceptual versus tangible. So
we use consist in
. . the (usually abstract) principle of which underlies something
and consist of when
. . the several (usually physical) components of something.
me write a few words on constitute in relation to comprise
others before him (and after), Eric Partridge (Usage and Abusage
(1947+), sees comprise as meaning “to contain”, and constitute
as mean “to form”, “to make up”, “to compose”.
consist of versus constitute, he quotes word-lover
Maurice H. Weesen’s Words Confused and Misused (1932?):
whole consists of parts; the parts constitute the whole.
Ernest Gowers, in his Complete Plain Words (1948+) differentiates
between comprise and include:
difference between comprise and include is that comprise is better when
all the components are enumerated and include when only some of them
all the above can be summarised in a table.
here’s something startling yours truly learned only while researching
this topic. On top of everything else, consist can be a noun.
true, but only if you’re talking about trains.
railway context a consist refers to a collection of rail cars
coupled together to make-up a train for service.
to from here?
with your gentle encouragement, I may as well keep my eyes peeled for
any other English worth shuddering at. I suppose there must be some