Tuesday, February 28, 2012

grammar lesson: assure, ensure, insure

These three words are very different in my mind. VERY different. And it drives me crazy when they are used incorrectly in official documents. I forgive layperson speech (but I still notice it). In the last few days I have seen "insure" used for "ensure" multiple times on documents from organizations that support higher education. Drives me crazy.

Here's the thing. Most people don't understand the difference between these words. Let me help you out.

Assure: This is the easiest one. Assure means to tell someone that something is true, or instill confidence in what you say, putting their worries to rest. I assure you that I will not eat your ice cream when you leave the room. (Muahaha. Sometimes people lie.)

Ensure: This more or less means to actually make sure something happens or doesn't happen. I am going to take my ice cream with me to ensure that Molly does not eat it while I am gone. (Boo.)

Insure: While this seems very similar to ensure, just think of insurance. No one is going to make sure something does or doesn't happen. They are just going to provide you with monetary backing or similar compensation in the event that said "thing" does or doesn't happen. I am going to insure my ice cream, so that if Molly eats it, the bank will pay me back for my losses.

While I'd guess that ensure and insure have the same etymology and may have been used interchangeably in the distant past, the connotation that accompanies the word insure nowadays is undeniably monetary in nature, while ensure does not carry this connotation. So I say they should be distinct and not interchangeable. That is my opinion.

Here is an example of "insure" that I read today:

In order to insure the confidentiality of the letters of recommendation, this set of documents should not
Who can tell me what is wrong with that sentence? I can assure you that it is wrong.

Do you agree or disagree?

Grammar is often subject to debate, you know. (But I'll win that debate, because all things on my blog are based on my opinion. Muahaha.)


mj said...

I assure you that I love everything about this post. :)

Anonymous said...

Agree! It drives me batty when people use insure instead of ensure.

Shannon said...

Molly, I'd like you to meet my friend, Brooke. She not only has a sinister laugh like yours (mwahaha), she also is a grammar goddess. And she posted this:
And it's made my day every day since. I think you'll like her. And, to be honest, when I first saw your post, I thought: "is there any question about the differences of these words? Doesn't everybody know?" Oh, the naivety of the grammatically inclined...

Molly said...

Maren--You would.

JulesQ--Especially when it's coming from professional organizations!

Shannon--I can't wait to be friends with Brooke. I will go check out here blog right no!

Chris said...

Can you ensure me and/or insure me in regard to your assurance that any ensurance evolved from insurance? I think not!

Chris said...

You must know that that last comment signed "Jo" was in fact from Jo Daddy. But I too love these grammar lessons. I'm pretty sure (hopefully) that I use these 3 words correctly. Just yesterday, though, emailing my sister, I recommended a book "entitled" ...then on second thought, seemed to recall a blog about that usage being incorrect? (which is too bad, since it sounds more educated :)

Molly said...

Mom--"Entitled" is correct, but I prefer just using "titled." That post was purely my opinion. :)

Jenna{Mommy in Manhattan} said...

I need these lessons bad! keep doing them!

Em said...

I love grammar posts!

I am also appalled by the butchering of the written word; that is, the lack of grammatical understanding among the general English-speaking public. :) I mainly notice the misspelling of colloquialisms like "it gives me piece of mind" instead of "peace of mind." whaaa?

You should do more of these posts!

Emma and Dan said...

My love of the rules of grammar dates back to high school. I had some amazing English teachers. This love increased once I started teaching ESL to adults (in college).

I always appreciate your posts about correct usage. :) I may not always get it right myself, but I sure appreciate when others do.