When Not to Include

By 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.

Works Cited

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.

Published 6 January 2017

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