GrammarPhile Blog

Words and Phrases People Often Mangle

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Sep 24, 2014 6:00:00 AM

train crash Mark Twain said something like "Say nothing and they'll just wonder if you're a fool. Open your mouth and you'll remove all doubt." If he were living today, he would certainly not aim that remark at you, because you're reading the GrammarPhile blog and that makes you smarter than the average bear (we hope!). You always want to appear intelligent, don't you? Study these words and use them properly. Mark Twain would be proud of you.


  • Use compare to when you are simply pointing out the similarity between two things.
  • Use compare with when your purpose is to analyze two things on the basis of their similarities or differences:
    • You cannot begin to compare [liken] water skiing to snow skiing.
    • I would like to begin my speech by comparing [weighing one against the other] this year's MasterCraft ProStar 180 with last year's model.


  • Compose means to create or put together. It commonly is used in both the active and passive voices: She composed a song. The United States is composed of fifty states. The zoo is composed of many animals.
  • Comprise means to contain, to include all, or embrace. It is best used only in the active voice, followed by a direct object: The United States comprises fifty states. The jury comprises five men and seven women. The zoo comprises many animals.
  • Constitute, in the sense of form or make up, may be the best word if neither compose nor comprise seems to fit. Fifty states constitute the United States. Five men and seven women constitute the jury. A collection of animals can constitute a zoo.
  • Use include when what follows is only part of the total: The price includes breakfast. The zoo includes lions and tigers.


  • Connote means to suggest or imply something beyond the explicit meaning: To some people, the word "marriage" connotes too much restriction.
  • Denote means to be explicit about the meaning: The word "demolish" denotes destruction.

COLLIDE. Did you know that two objects must be in motion before they can collide? A moving train does not collide with a stopped train, but crashes into it instead.


Sources: AP Style Guide and Grammar for Smart People.

Topics: common mistakes, misused words

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