Have you ever stumbled over choosing the right word to match the context of what you’re trying to express?
It turns out that English is an ultra-precise language that has hundreds, if not thousands, of words with similar, if not almost identical meanings. The devil’s in the details, though –– using the correct word will make your writing stand out for all the right reasons.
For instance, what about insure vs. ensure vs. assure — they all sound and look pretty similar, right?
You’re not alone when it comes to the challenge that insure vs. ensure vs. assure poses people. Since all three terms have something to do with “being sure,” it’s clear why these word triplets are commonly confused in the English language. In fact, many people think that they’re simply interchangeable.
As homophones, they sound similar but are spelled differently — only adding to the confusion. But they’re three different terms with distinct meanings and uses. For that reason, it’s important to know the difference and how to use these commonly confused words correctly.
What’s the difference between insure, ensure, and assure?
When it comes to understanding the difference between the three words, it’s not their definitions that differentiate them. Their definitions are all pretty similar — each term has something to do with “making sure of something.”
Their differences lie in how they’re used in a sentence.
• To insure something or someone is to arrange compensation in case of loss or damage.
• To ensure something is to make something certain or guarantee it.
• To assure someone is to remove their doubts.
Although some people use insure, ensure, and assure interchangeably — hopefully, you can see that they are in fact pretty different from one another.
Let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of when to use each word.
When to use insure
To insure something is to pay for an insurance policy — an agreement that provides financial compensation resulting from damage or loss. Many styleguides limit the use of insure to simply talking about a financial insurance policy.
• You should insure your puppy so you don’t end up with expensive veterinary bills.
• Some thieves broke into the neighbor’s home. Luckily, they’d insured their property beforehand.
• Insuring your laptop is a good idea if you rely on it for work.
When to use ensure
To ensure something is to guarantee it. In other words, if you ensure something, you’re making sure it’s going to happen.
• The local soccer team won their first game, ensuring they made it through to the next round of the tournament.
• You must ensure that you unplug all your electronic devices at home before going on vacation.
• To ensure he gets a good grade, Tom studies every weekend.
When to use assure
You assure something to remove a person or animal’s doubts or insecurities.
• I assure you that I’ve properly prepared for tomorrow’s presentation.
• Sam was in love with Christine, but he wasn’t assured that she shared the same feelings.
• The real estate agent assured me that the house was in a safe area to raise kids.
In British English, the word assurance can also refer to a specific type of insurance.
• Last year, my father took out a life assurance policy.
Confusing ensure and insure
It’s particularly easy to confuse ensure and insure. In fact, for hundreds of years, insure and ensure were just spelling variants and had no more difference than, say, the words center or centre.
But in the middle of the 19th century, some grammarians began to find issues with this. They proposed designating separate meanings to ensure, insure, and assure.
These days, though some stylebooks say that it’s still correct to use insure to mean ensure. For instance, the New York Times indicates that the two words are in fact interchangeable.
However, the overall trend in American English tends to differentiate the usage of the two words, with insure exclusively meaning to take out an insurance policy and ensure having a broader meaning of guaranteeing something happens.
How to remember when to use insure, ensure, and assure
Next time you’re in doubt of whether to use insure, ensure, or assure, keep in mind these simple tricks to help you to remember when each word best fits the context of what you’re saying.
• You insure a house.
• You assure a person or animal.
• You ensure everything else.
To help you tell the words apart, you could also try adding the prefix re-.
• Reinsure: to take out another insurance policy
• Reassure: to give someone or something assurance about an event or fact.
• Of course, re-ensure isn’t a word, so keep an eye out for that one.
Finally, you could try putting each word into its noun form to help you work out which one sounds or looks right.
• Insurance: a policy or practice that a third party protects you financially against loss or damage against something.
• Assurance: a positive statement with the purpose of inspiring confidence in someone.
• The word “ensurance” doesn’t exist either, so take care not to use it by mistake.
To recap: insure vs. ensure vs. assure
When you know the exact definition of each word, you’ll find it easier to feel when each term should be used. Confusing the three words is a fairly common error to make in your writing, but it’s equally an avoidable one, too.
• Insure means to issue or obtain an insurance policy.
• Ensure means to make sure something happens.
• To assure someone is to remove their doubts and provide them with reassurance.
If you take away one thing from today, remember that ensurance and re-ensure don’t exist! So take care not to use those two words in your writing.
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