Lesson: When to use assure, ensure, and insure
Last week I was waiting in my doctor’s office, casually taking in the wall art (you know, the cartoon man coughing phlegm into a face mask to remind you to be careful where you spew your germs and the step-by-step instructions on how not to freak out your kids when they get their shots . . .) when I came across a truly frightening memorandum. It read: To assure we stay on schedule, please arrive 15 minutes before your appointment.
I took deep breaths and convinced myself not to bring up this incorrect word choice to the doctor, figuring I didn’t need “crazy grammar freak” written in my medical records. But later, when the doctor was discussing putting me on a new heart medicine, I did start to get nervous. If she didn’t notice that assure should have been ensure, what if she made another mistake, like instead of writing me a prescription to help my heart, she gave me something that would liquefy my liver. (Though, perhaps if I had less paranoia, these heart palpitations would go away on their own.)
The point is: Many English words sound similar, and it can be tricky to figure out what word to use when. As we continue our language adventures on this blog, I will help demystify word choice for you. This is important because, as you can tell from my anecdote, using the wrong word can change a person’s perception of you, and this doesn’t just pertain to persnickety wordsmiths.
Today we’re going to look at assure, ensure, and insure.
Assure means to encourage or promise someone that a certain outcome will happen.
Example: I assure you, if you wear your shark-repellant mask, no shark will eat your face off.
Ensure is something you do to guarantee an outcome.
Example: Wearing your shark-repellant mask will ensure no shark will eat your face off.
Insure involves financial liability, such as with health or life insurance.
Example: You should insure your face in case a shark eats it off.
What other words bring you confusion? Feel free to comment on this post and let me know what topics I should write about in the future.