Skip to main content Skip to navigation

comprised of

Although “comprise” is used primarily to mean “to include,” it is also often stretched to mean “is made up of”—a meaning that some critics object to. The most cautious route is to avoid using “of” after any form of “comprise” and substitute “is composed of” in sentences like this: “Jimmy’s paper on Marxism was composed entirely of sentences copied off the Marx Brothers home page.”

There’s a lot of disagreement about the proper use of “comprise,” but most authorities agree that the whole comprises the parts: “Our pets comprise one dog, two cats, and a turtle.” The whole comes first, then “comprise” followed by the parts. But there’s so much confusion surrounding the usage of this word that it may be better to avoid it altogether.


Phrases like “conflicted feelings” or “I feel conflicted” are considered jargon by many, and out of place in formal writing. Use “I have conflicting feelings” instead, or write “I feel ambivalent.”


When run-off from a chemical plant enters the river it contaminates the water, but the goo itself consists of contaminants.


Confucius is the founder of Confucianism. His name is not spelled “Confucious,” and his philosophy is not called “Confusionism.” When you spot the confusion in the latter term, change it quickly to “Confucianism.”


When paying someone a compliment like “I love what you’ve done with the kitchen!” you’re being complimentary. A free bonus item is also a complimentary gift. But items or people that go well with each other are complementary.

In geometry, complementary angles add up to 90°, whereas supplementary ones add up to 180°.


“Closed-minded” might seem logical, but the traditional spelling of this expression is “close-minded.” The same is true for “close-lipped” and “close-mouthed.”

come with

In some American dialects it is common to use the phrase “come with” without specifying with whom, as in “We’re going to the bar. Want to come with?” This sounds distinctly odd to the majority of people, who would expect “come with us.”

confident / confidant / confidante

In modern English “confident’ is almost always an adjective. Having studied for a test you feel confident about passing it. You’re in a confident frame of mind. This spelling is often misused as a noun meaning “person you confide in,” especially in the misspelled phrase “close confident.”

The spelling “confidante” suggests that such a close friend might be a female, and conservatives prefer to confine its use to refer to women. But this spelling is also very common for males, and the spelling “confidant” is also used of both males and females. Either one will do in most contexts, but the person you trust with your deep secrets is not your “confident.”


You can copyright writing, but you can also copyright a photograph or song. The word has to do with securing rights. Thus, there is no such word as “copywritten”; it’s “copyrighted.”

coarse / course

“Coarse” is always an adjective meaning “rough, crude.” Unfortunately, this spelling is often mistakenly used for a quite different word, “course,” which can be either a verb or a noun (with several different meanings).