Homonym Help Line
May 02, 2014
One of the hardest parts about the English language is the prominence of words that sound the same, or very similar, yet mean different things. My recent favorite is “there,” “their” and “they’re.” If you read these to someone and they can’t see them printed on the page, they will have no idea which meaning is intended without some additional context.
Another pair of words that I have recently seen used incorrectly is “ensure” and “insure.” At first glance, these two words are so similar. They may only differ by one letter, but that little change can make a big difference.
Both of these words can have the concept of securing or guaranteeing something behind their meaning, but again, the context is important. When using “insure” you are generally be speaking about something financial. You pay to insure your car or home against damage. You pay to insure yourself against costly health issues. In general, anything pertaining to the insurance industry will use “insure.”
On the other hand, “ensure” should be used when you are guaranteeing something will happen. “The girl sang well enough to ensure herself a spot on American Idol.” You are essentially saying that an event is a certainty because of some other action.
Now you know, and knowing…well GI Joe probably has the rest of that copyrighted.