Thursday, January 31, 2008

Commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases (Part 10)

Even more words I frequently see mangled:

Comprise(d) vs. compose(d) or consist(s) or contain(s)

Wrong: Water is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen.
Right: Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.

I frequently read that A “is comprised of” X, Y, and Z. This is incorrect, and in fact exactly backwards. Parts comprise the whole. The whole consists of, or is composed of, or contains the parts. Therefore, X, Y, and Z comprise A, while A consists of X, Y, and Z. There’s a caveat to this, however: The “is comprised of” form has been misused for so long that many grammar experts are beginning to accept it. So there’s a good chance you can get away with using it. On the other hand, why not use it correctly and be guaranteed that an editor (or grammar teacher) will approve?

Peak vs. pique vs. peek

Wrong: You peaked my interest.
Right: You piqued my interest.

Peak, when used as a verb, means to reach the highest point of something. (“The Dow Jones peaked at 11,000 points.”) Pique, in this context, means to excite interest, or arouse an emotion. And, of course, peek means to glance quickly or furtively, or peep. You might peek at the mountain peak, which in turn piques your curiosity.

That's it for this exciting installment. There are plenty more to come. Apparently we've been very, very bad when it comes to mangling the English language....


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