When Not to IncludeBy Michael Kandel
Many of the MLA’s authorities on English usage frown on the use of include to mean are (e.g., Bernstein 28; Follett 177). Roy H. Copperud’s explanation for the frown has a peevish snap: “That which includes is not all-inclusive, careless use to the contrary” (198). Bryan A. Garner notes that include “is now coming to be widely misused for consists of” (454). The principle is simple: If you are presenting a list and it is complete—that is, exhaustive—do not use language that suggests otherwise. For example, if you eat dinner at a restaurant that serves only avocado melba toasts, farm-raised pickled ginger, and quinoa-almond milk, do not write
The restaurant’s dinner options included avocado melba toasts, farm-raised pickled ginger, and quinoa-almond milk.
Instead, to clarify that only these three items are served, write
The restaurant’s dinner options were avocado melba toasts, farm-raised pickled ginger, and quinoa-almond milk.
If you feel that the plain to be verb is inconsistent with your tone, you could reword:
The restaurant’s dinner options consisted of avocado melba toasts, farm-raised pickled ginger, and quinoa-almond milk.
Consisted of is a little stuffy but at least correct. Included avoids stuffiness but isn’t correct.
Bernstein, Theodore M. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. Atheneum, 1965.
Copperud, Roy H. American Usage and Style: The Consensus. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980.
Follett, Wilson. Modern American Usage: A Guide. Hill and Wang, 1966.
Garner, Bryan A. Garner’s Modern American Usage. 3rd edition, Oxford UP, 2009.
Michael Kandel has been editing at the MLA for twenty-one years. He also translated several Polish writers, among them Stanisław Lem, Andrzej Stasiuk, Marek Huberath, and Paweł Huelle, and edited, for Harcourt Brace, several American writers, among them Jonathan Lethem, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Morrow, and Patricia Anthony.
Published 6 January 2017