Let me assure you

A reader suggested that the words “assure,” “ensure” and “insure” are often confused, with “assure” often serving all purposes. In copy editing for the newspaper, I encounter more instances where I need to change “insure” to “ensure.” These two words are interchangeable in meaning, most usage authorities say, but the Associated Press Stylebook makes a distinction between ensure “to guarantee” and insure “to protect against loss,” as in buying or selling insurance. So, in our paper, we would write: The legislature wants to ensure that residents can insure their homes against flood for a reasonable premium. (Please note that my example sentence is fanciful; I am not making news here.)“Assure,” on the other hand, is used to mean “to make someone confident of something.” (I am reminded of a hymn that many Southern Protestants probably know, “Blessed Assurance.”) So, building on our example above, The legislature wants to assure [give confidence to] residents that the state will ensure [guarantee] that they can insure [protect against loss] their homes against flood for a reasonable premium. (Again, I am using a completely made-up example sentence.)I think that these distinctions are worthwhile, but other people may find the difference between “ensure” and “insure” just too fine to worry about.Here is a link to the entry in the online version of The American Heritage Book of English Usage that explains these words. Also, Professor Brians’ Common Errors in English has an entry on assure/ensure/insure.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.