Commonly Confused Words: Ensure vs. Insure

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What does each word mean?

Ensure is a verb meaning to make certain.

Here is the word ensure used in some example sentences:

  • Parents must ensure their children are supervised at all times.
  • Please ensure you have all your travel documents with you when leaving for the airport.
  • The anonymous marking system ensures that all students are treated fairly and without bias.

Click here to access the Spellzone word lists featuring the word ensure.

If you insure something, on the other hand, it means you’re protecting it with insurance, i.e. you’re arranging compensation in case of loss or damage.

Here is the word insure used some example sentences:

  • For an extra charge you can insure your laptop against loss, damage, or theft.
  • Comparison websites are a useful tool for deciding which company to insure your car with.

While insure is sometimes also used as a verb meaning to make certain (usually in American English), we believe it’s useful to have different spellings for each word to emphasise the difference in their meanings. The spelling ensure should never be used when talking about arranging compensation in case of loss or damage.

Where does each word come from?

Both ensure and insure derive from the same Anglo-French root (which is why, in some cases, the spellings are still used interchangeably). Ensure dates back to the late-fourteenth century and comes from the word enseurer (en meaning make and seur meaning sure), which in turn is probably influenced by the Old French asseurer meaning assure. Insure is a variation of the word ensuren and this spelling dates back to the mid-fifteenth century. From the fifteenth century the word was used to describe an engagement to marry (replacing the word assure - as in the assurance that marriage will take place between two people), and from the mid-seventeenth century it took on the meaning it has today.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • To help you remember that insure is spelt with an I, remember that you take out insurance in case something goes wrong.
  • Think of a name beginning with E and an object beginning with I and use them in a sentence which will help you remember the difference between these two words. For example: Emma ensured to insure her new iPod in case it got lost or broken.

Where can I find other posts about easy-to-confuse words?


Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary.

28 Jul 2015
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