Ensure vs. Insure — How to always use the right one

One of the biggest word-choice mistakes is incredibly easy to avoid

Of all the frequently-interchanged homophones, the two whose confusion riles me up more than any other are ensure and insure.

I see these mistakes all the time, even from professional writers, even in published books and articles.

If people would just use "ensure" every time they want to use "insure," they would be right most of the time.
If people would just use “ensure” every time they want to use “insure,” they would be right most of the time.

These two words mean completely different things. “Ensure” means to make sure that something will be the case. “Insure” means to buy insurance for something, or to provide insurance for something.

Or, in the words of a Google definition search:

Ensure: Make certain that (something) shall occur or be the case.

Insure: 1. Arrange for compensation in the event of damage to or loss of (property), or injury to or the death of (someone), in exchange for…: “the car is insured for loss or damage” 2. Provide insurance coverage.

And yet, somehow, I rarely see these words used correctly. Actually, I rarely see “insure” used correctly, and I rarely see “ensure” used at all. People are always writing, “The seat belt insures that you don’t get thrown from the car,” but they never make a mistake like “And you should wear your seat belt even if your car is ensured.”

It’s always “insure” being used where “ensure” belongs—except in the case of the nutritional drink. I’ve never seen anyone write, “I get fiber, vitamins, and minerals by drinking Insure.”

So I’m stuck reading all these statements in which people say they need to insure that they get to work on time—Really? Do you file a claim with Allstate when you’re late to work?—or they drink Ensure to insure good nutrition, or they want to insure that I got their message (which you don’t do, unless you’re sending me a package and purchase insurance on it).

Here are three simple steps to insuring ensuring you never confuse these words again:

1. Ask yourself, “Am I purchasing insurance for this?” If not, you are not insuring. You are probably ensuring.

2. Could you replace the word with the words “make sure” or “making sure.” If so, you are ensuring.

3. Always use “ensure.” Seriously. As I mentioned earlier, I never see people use “ensure” when they mean “insure,” only the other way around. Most of us only insure a few things—our cars, our houses, our health, and our lives—and the act of insuring them does not come up all that often in conversation. But we ensure all the time: We ensure that we get up on time, we ensure that we brush our teeth, that we drink our Ensure, etc. So if you train your fingers to type an “e” every time they are about to type “nsure,” then you will be right almost every single time.

So, let’s ensure proper use of these words, and insure our homes and our cars.