“Ensure” and “insure” derive from the Latin word securus, which means “safe” or “secure.” This Latin word also gives 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 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.
How to remember this: You can only assure things that are alive. Assure and alive both start with A.
ENSURE: Something you do to guarantee an event or condition.
Example: We’re working really hard to ensure that the back yard 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 fun at my party.
How to remember this: If I’m trying to ensure something, I’m trying to guarantee an outcome. Remember the double E in guarantee to use ensure.
INSURE: Something you can do to limit financial liability.
Example: It’s a good thing I called State Farm to insure my new flute because I accidentally dropped it and backed over it with the car.
This happened to a friend of mine. 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 top of 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 only out about a hundred bucks.
How to remember this: If you don’t insure your car and end up in a fender bender with a Rolls-Royce, your income will be impacted. Insure and income both begin with “in.”
You can also remember it this way:
Have a grammatical question you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
A version of this post originally appeared on PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog. Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.