Assure - ensure - insure

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The verbs assure, ensure and insure share a common root. They have something of a common group of meanings. In the past, the spellings of the three were interchangeable. However, nowadays there is a more or less clear distinction between the three. Each spelling is increasingly limited to a single group of meanings. Good students will try to keep them distinct.

  • 'To assure' (and its related noun assurance) is used with the sense of 'making [someone] certain': "I assure you that I am right"; "He assured himself of the whereabouts of the emergency exit". There is also a usage of assured and assuredly to mean 'confident' or 'very confident': "He walked with an assured swagger"; "His speech was very easy and assured"; "The Professor addressed the conference very assuredly."
  • 'To ensure' denotes a sense of 'making something or someone sure': "I will catch the earlier bus just to ensure that I am on time"; "The alarm bell must be loud enough to ensure that no one is still asleep".
  • 'To insure' means 'to make safe, to secure, to guarantee'. This is one of the many definitions given for the word in the OED.

Nowadays the financial meanings of this group of related words are almost always spelled as insure, with the related noun insurance. (There is no such noun as ensurance.) This means, roughly, 'to pay someone else a premium that, if some unfortunate event happens, will make sure that the payer of the premium is compensated'.

If the term 'to insure' refers to a similar form of saving money, this time for a pension for yourself (or your surviving relatives), people in the financial industry often write it as 'life assurance'. People who are not specialists usually spell it 'life insurance'. There is no difference: they mean the same. All these financial meanings, both ins- and ass- , denote ways of developing financial strength through combining risks.