Ensure Versus Insure: Definitions and Examples

by Liz Bureman | 14 comments

There are a number of words that are often mixed up in writing: effect vs. affect, compliment vs. complement, and others. Here's a problem I've encountered a lot: the confusion of ensure versus insure.

But wait, those two words are the same, right? Well . . . not exactly. Let's look at some definitions and examples.

When to Use Ensure vs Insure

The Connection Between Ensure and Insure
ensure

Every time I hear the word “ensure,” I think of the high-protein flavored beverage that I will never drink.

But we're going to use this ingestible product to help you remember how to use ensure. Win-win (kind of).

Both “insure” and “ensure” are verbs. They both derive from the same word meaning “to make sure.” So are they just a spelling variant of the same word?

No. The context can help clarify the difference between insure and ensure and the more distinct meanings for each.

What does Ensure mean?

For example:

Carrie knew that drinking a gallon of milk in an hour would ensure that Simon would experience intense gastrointestinal discomfort, but she didn't make any moves to prevent his performance.

If you've ever watched someone take on the gallon challenge, where a person tries to drink an entire gallon of milk or other beverage all at one time, you're familiar with this scenario.

Participating in the gallon challenge ensures that Simon will not be doing well in an hour or less– his stomach is going to hurt as it processes that much liquid. The rapid consumption ensures he won't feel well.

What does Insure mean?

Insure suggests protecting or securing against a negative outcome.

In this case, achieving the desired outcome will require some work or investment; it's not an easy guarantee. You often insure against something.

It's most commonly used in the context of an insurance policy usually with an insurance company (health, homeowner's, car, life insurance etc.). But it still has uses outside of the realm of policies, deductibles, and financial compensation:

Unbeknownst to Carrie, Simon had two bottles of Pepto-Bismol in his pocket, hoping that they would insure against trouble in his digestive tract.

In this case, Simon has brought some medicinal aids in order to protect his digestive system from undesirable effects. In this broader meaning, he's trying to protect against a stomach ache by taking medicine to counteract it.

Insure Against Grammar Mishaps

The English language can be tricky. But we'll keep posting articles like this to ensure you understand all its ins and outs. Keep reading and practicing in the comments to insure against unfortunate errors in your writing! (See what I did there?)

Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems, (ensuring that my grammar is correct) and even generates reports is ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use our coupon code to get 20 percent off: WritePractice20

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What sets of similar words trip you up? Let us know in the comments!

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write about Simon's decision to partake in the gallon challenge. How successful was his insurance attempt? Has he really ensured his digestive demise?

Post in the Pro Practice Workshop here, so we can be just as grossed out as you are. Be sure to leave feedback on your fellow writers' pieces!

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

14 Comments

  1. Guest

    Carrie watched warily from a safe distance as Simon chugged a gallon of whole milk in front of all their friends. Simon was never one to back down from a dare, especially if it had to do with eating or drinking something. He prided himself in having an “iron stomach” that could take any form of abuse; whether it be a hotdog eating contest, swallowing gold fish, or, in this case, chugging a gallon of lukewarm milk in an hour. His buddies had secretly set the milk out for most of the afternoon just to ensure a violent and messy outcome. Simon believed he could handle it since he had brought the Pepto along for insurance.

    Everyone decided it would be a great idea to joined Carrie in the “splash-free” zone. They wanted to stay clear of what was sure to become a vomit geyser from their idiot friend, Simon. As everyone cheered, Simon began drinking. Carrie led the group in chanting, “Chug-chug-chug,” to the rhythm of the loud music blaring over the stereo.

    Simon began quickly, trying to get down as much warm milk as he could, but then realized he needed to pace himself. He caught his breath and then continued his slow but constant chug fest. The party goers continued to egg him on as they went about their business of party conversation and flirting. When it became apparent that Simon might indeed meet his challenge with five minutes to spare, the crowd regrouped and began chanting again, “Chug, chug, chug…”

    The group broke into cheers and applause when Simon finished the milk, but kept their distance to insure staying free from the aftermath. Simon lifted the empty jug in the air proclaiming victory, but his smile quickly faded. The look on his face caused the crowd to go silent. Carrie began to smile knowingly, as she was about to have the last laugh. She nodded her head as she thought she could hear Simon’s stomach churning. Sure enough, within a few seconds, Simon exploded. But as he did, he lunged forward towards Carrie, and the power of his projectile vomiting sent the milk-vomit all over the front of Carries blouse. Everyone cheered and laughed, seeing the look on her face. Carrie was mortified and started screaming at Simon, who then turned towards her and vomited again, this time into Carrie’s open mouth. Before Carrie could think of what to do next, she felt her own gag reflex take over, causing her to engage in some sympathetic vomiting of her own. Consequently, Simon and Carries vomit duel ended up ensuring a mass exodus of the party.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      First of all, the “splash free” zone? A vomit geyser? Gross and hilarious. And you end it with that wonderful image of the vomit duel. This should be in a film. I love it.

      There was one problem:

      The group broke into cheers and applause when Simon finished the milk, but kept their distance to insure staying free from the aftermath.

      Do you see it?

      Insure? Should be ensure. Dang it. Sorry dude.

      However, if you ever want to write the screenplay for the next Animal House or American Pie I think you’ve got a good scene here.

    • joco

      DANG!!! I could just puke!

    • I'm determined

      I was thinking, Pride goes before a Fall, plus Revenge is often less than Sweet. But Joe is right. Sorry Guest.

  2. tdub

    Carrie watched warily from a safe distance as Simon chugged a gallon of whole milk in front of all their friends. Simon was never one to back down from a dare, especially if it had to do with eating or drinking something. He prided himself in having an “iron stomach” that could take any form of abuse; whether it be a hotdog eating contest, swallowing gold fish, or, in this case, chugging a gallon of lukewarm milk in an hour. His buddies had secretly set the milk out for most of the afternoon just to ensure a violent and messy outcome. Simon believed he could handle it since he had brought the Pepto along for insurance.

    Everyone decided it would be a great idea to joined Carrie in the “splash-free” zone. They wanted to stay clear of what was sure to become a vomit geyser from their idiot friend, Simon. As everyone cheered, Simon began drinking. Carrie led the group in chanting, “Chug-chug-chug,” to the rhythm of the loud music blaring over the stereo.

    Simon began quickly, trying to get down as much warm milk as he could, but then realized he needed to pace himself. He caught his breath and then continued his slow but constant chug fest. The party goers continued to egg him on as they went about their business of party conversation and flirting. When it became apparent that Simon might indeed meet his challenge with five minutes to spare, the crowd regrouped and began chanting again, “Chug, chug, chug…”

    The group broke into cheers and applause when Simon finished the milk, but kept their distance to insure staying free from the aftermath. Simon lifted the empty jug in the air proclaiming victory, but his smile quickly faded. The look on his face caused the crowd to go silent. Carrie began to smile knowingly, as she was about to have the last laugh. She nodded her head as she thought she could hear Simon’s stomach churning. Sure enough, within a few seconds, Simon exploded. But as he did, he lunged forward towards Carrie, and the power of his projectile vomiting sent the milk-vomit all over the front of Carries blouse. Everyone cheered and laughed, seeing the look on her face. Carrie was mortified and started screaming at Simon, who then turned towards her and vomited again, this time into Carrie’s open mouth. Before Carrie could think of what to do next, she felt her own gag reflex take over, causing her to engage in some sympathetic vomiting of her own. Consequently, Simon and Carries vomit duel ended up ensuring a mass exodus of the party.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      First of all, the “splash free” zone? A vomit geyser? Gross and hilarious. And you end it with that wonderful image of the vomit duel. This should be in a film. I love it.

      There was one problem:

      The group broke into cheers and applause when Simon finished the milk, but kept their distance to insure staying free from the aftermath.

      Do you see it?

      Insure? Should be ensure. Dang it. Sorry dude.

      However, if you ever want to write the screenplay for the next Animal House or American Pie I think you’ve got a good scene here.

    • Tdub

      DANG!!! I could just puke!

  3. Lele Lele

    “So Simon,” Carrie said. “How you doing?”

    Simon groaned. He kept his right hand on his abdomen massaging it. “I-I’m fine. Why?”

    Carrie smiled. “Just ensuring your safety.”

    “You?”

    “I’m good,” she said. “Brought out my sweater to insure myself against the cold.”

    Simon’s stomach grumbled. “Uh.”

    She stood closer and tapped his back. “What’s wrong Simon?”

    Simon gulped. His knees got weak. He rested his on his left knee. “No, I’m good.”

    She smiled again. “Good, good.”

    Simon narrowed his eyes. “What’s with the creepy smiles? You’re weirding me out.”

    “Me?” she said eyes wide. “It’s just a beautiful day, beautiful morning.”

    A loud belch burst out of his mouth. He almost fell but Carrie ensured he wouldn’t.

    “Easy dear,” she said.

    “Thanks,” he said. He looked up to her eyes. He blinked.

    “Uh, hey,” he said looking away insuring himself from her gaze. “Carrie sorry about yesterday, uhm, about uh.”

    She slapped him hard on the back he almost fell over.

    “Oh, you’re worried about that, silly.” She was smiling ear to ear. “It’s nothing. Forgive and forget, I say. Insure myself from negative energies”

    “I don’t know,” Simon said. He stood up and leaned on Carrie’s shoulders. His breath prickled Carrie’s cheek. “You got really mad. Way mad. Madder than I’ve ever seen you.”

    She frowned. “It wasn’t that bad.”

    “Hey I know,” Simon said. “I’m pretty good at ensuring you’re mad, but last night was something else.”

    Carrie chuckled. “So? I’m fine this morning. Didn’t you see me smiling and dancing?”

    His eyes narrowed. “Wait.” He pushed himself off her. “Was there something in the milk?”

    “What milk?” She shook her head and smiled.

    He pointed a finger at her. “Look I know all about that stupid challenge. I even brought my meds to insure myself against your evil schemes.”

    She shook her face side to side. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

    “Why you evil-” He clutched his stomach. “Umphf.”

    She pointed at a nearby restroom. “Need toilet paper? Ensure your cleanliness?”

    He nodded vigorously. She took it from her bag and threw it at him. He kept his hands on his face to insure it from getting hit. He got hit anyways.

    “Simon, hurry up,” she said. “You might actually hit the toilet seat right.”

    He glared at her. Then he ran as fast as he can to the toilet.

    She grinned as she heard him groan loudly.

    Reply
  4. Will

    Simon had stashed two bottles of Pepto-Bismol to insure against the extreme digestive discomfort of the gallon challenge. But, unbeknownst to him, the two bottles were not nearly enough to cover the massive intestinal catastrophe that would soon take place.

    The gallon of milk – the whole carboy of it – was in front of simon. He wet his lips.

    “I can’t believe you actually crave this milk,” said Carrie. In all the time she spent watching over simon, she couldn’t have called herself disturbed – except for now.

    “I don’t crave it,” said Simon, “I’m just preparing.”

    “Then again, you haven’t eaten anything all day,” continued Carrie, ignoring simon.

    Carrie kept her eyes glued to simon as the other gallon challengers approached the arena. She stood as far as possible as she could from them, but ensured that her angle would give her a nice view of the vomit-fest.

    Simon started drinking so fast Carrie missed the first drops of the milk hitting his lips. Some of the guys were starting out slow – not simon. He would never make such an effort to insure against indigestion. Carrie’s horror and glee settled into her slightly nauseated stomach as simon tipped back and downed even more milk.

    It was over so soon – Simon had broken a record, and was declared winner. Everybody was still chugging as fast as they could. Nobody minded the milk’s unhealthy colour and sour smell.

    Simon reached for his Pepto-Bismol, and in the same spirit of bravado that led him to conquer the gallon challenge, downed the bottles in two great gulps.

    For a spit second, everything was fine. Could the milk possibly have been digested? Until simon doubled over and heaved the milk out in one giant, yellow and foul-smelling stream.

    The crowd cheered and whooped, and they turned, louder as the rest of the challengers started vomiting as well. Simon’s display had ensured the gallon challenge once again became no-man’s-land.

    Reply
  5. TerriblyTerrific

    I thought I knew the basic difference. Thank you. This article will ensure that I become a better writer.

    Reply
  6. Jason Bougger

    I have to say, I really like these quick clarification posts. So many words in the English language are just a problematic as these two.

    Reply
  7. Joyce Hague

    And let’s not forget the word “assure” that can be thrown into the mix.

    Reply
  8. Aspholessaria

    I often get irritated when I hear people, especially journalists, who should know better, using ‘insure’ when they mean ensure.

    Thanks for the post clarifying the difference.

    Reply
  9. Mark Wilkinson

    I didn’t even know there was a difference between the two I’m very grateful for this post haha. I’ll keep these in mind.

    Reply

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