Two Bugaboos: Comprise and Impact

Here are two mistakes that frequently find their way into academic prose: misusing the words “comprise” and “impact.”  I suppose that the former is tempting because it sounds a little smarter than your average verb–an important thing to grad students (though not necessarily, these same students should note, to experienced academic authors).  My theory is that folks like the latter because it sounds a little jazzy (and let’s face it, scholarly writing has few opportunities for jazz).  We appreciate your efforts, but please, find a better way.

The bad news is that these two words are hard to use correctly.  Frankly, I would advise skipping them altogether and opting for more serviceable synonyms.  Here’s why.

Comprise: The parts do not comprise the whole.  The whole comprises the parts.  The confusion here probably stems from the word’s resemblance to “compose,” which has the opposite meaning.  However, comprise should more properly be considered a synonym of “consist of.”  For example, the Bible comprises sixty-six books.

Impact: Step away from the verb.  I repeat.  Step away from the verb.  Or, as more elegantly stated in The Chicago Manual of Style, “impact used as a verb is widely considered a solecism” (5.220, 16th ed.).  Use “affect” instead.

These may be minor issues, but eliminating such mistakes will gratify your editors and impress your  fellow (careful) writers.


One thought on “Two Bugaboos: Comprise and Impact

  1. Oops. Step away from the “very”? Otherwise, very informative. And love the title! It used to bug me no end when students used “comprises” incorrectly. I WOULD, however, let them use “comprised of”. Is this correct? Ma~

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