Assure, ensure, insure: How to keep them straight

Many people use these three terms interchangeably, and they shouldn’t. The words have discrete meanings. Here’s how to remember which to use in a particular context.

Have you been so confused about when to use “assure,” “ensure,” and “insure” that you actually go back and rewrite your sentence to avoid using the word? I do that.

“Ensure” and “insure” derive from the Latin word securus, which means “safe” or “secure.” This Latin word also give us “sure,” “secure,” “assure,” and “security.” These three verbs—assure, ensure, insure—all have the same general meaning: “to make sure.” The devil is in the details, and context is key to determining when to use each of these words.

The simplest way I’ve found to keep these three words straight is as follows:

  • Assure—something you do to (or for, actually) a person, a group of people, or an animal to remove doubt or anxiety. Example: I assured my team that I would bring my world-famous tiramisu to our next team meeting. I don’t know how anxious my team is about what sort of food I bring to the team meeting, but if they are worried about it, I’m assuring them I will bring something yummy, thereby removing any doubt or anxiety they may have had.

Quick tip: You can only assure things that are aliveassure/alive—both start with A.

  • Ensure—something you to do guarantee an event or condition. Example: We’re working hard to ensure that the backyard will be ready for the party next month. I’m planning a party next month that I’d like to have in my backyard. In order for that to happen, I need to eradicate about a thousand Canadian thistles from my backyard, otherwise, someone is sure to step on one of those spiky little buggers and not have much fun at my party.

Quick tip: If I’m trying to ensure something, I’m trying to guarantee an outcome—ensure/guarantee—remember the double E in guarantee to use ensure.

  • Insure—something you can do to a person, place, or thing, limiting financial liability. Example: It’s a good thing I called my agent to insure my new flute, because I accidentally dropped it and backed over it with the car. Now, this didn’t actually happen to me, but it did happen to a friend. Her flute case was on top of the car, and she forgot about it. She started to back down her driveway. The flute case slid off the car and she ran over it. She had insurance coverage on her flute, which limited her financial liability, and she got her flute repaired and a new flute case and was out only about a hundred bucks.

Quick tip: If you don’t insure your car and you end up in a fender bender with a Rolls-Royce—that will impact your income—insure and income both begin with “in.”

You can also remember it this way, “I assure you, I’ve ensured that I’m insured.”

A version of this article first appeared on Business2Community.

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