January 31, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: insure/ensure/assure, affect/effect, utilize

Posted in affect/effect, insure/ensure/assure, utilize at 8:14 pm by dlseltzer

A number of us have been working on a grant proposal the last few weeks (going to the Office of Research for electronic submission this afternoon), and, in many ways, the grant proposal was inspiring. After all, that proposal inspired me to write today’s tips. (And the grant proposal is the reason for this email being sent so late in the day>)

Tip 1 What word to use: assure, ensure, or insure:

Assure: you can assure a person–not a thing

Example: I assure you, I will come to Point Brugge tonight.CORRECT
I will assure that a table is available. WRONG (although it IS true that there are hardly ever tables readily available there)

Ensure: use in sense of ‘make sure’ something or someone

Example: I will ensure that all the ducks are in a row.

Insure: pretty much interchangeable with ensure but not preferred in formal writing; usually used when talking about insurance (life, car, health, etc.)

Example: I will insure that we get this project done in time. (JUST DOESN’T FEEL GOOD BUT IT’S OKAY IN A PINCH)


Tip 2 What is the difference between affect and effect?

These two words are often confused. Affect is USUALLY a verb. Effect is USUALLY a noun. Since using affect as a verb and effect as a noun is the most common usage, that’s what I think of first when deciding which word to use.

Affect: Influencing or changing something or someone

Example: The original finding affected the way I want to approach this problem. CORRECT
I can’t believe the affect those words had on me. WRONG

Effect: Something brought about by a cause; a result: a change.

Example: The effect of the blizzard was a huge traffic jam. CORRECT
Talking to him effected the way I viewed life. WRONG

We can go through the other meanings another day but these are the most common definitions.


And finally, Tip 3 (I told you the proposal was inspiring–and I have even more for another day.) Utilize

Utilize is over-utilized.



  1. Arleigh Berg said,

    Regarding ensure versus insure, my rule of thumb for their proper usage is that “ensure” is proactive – if you want something to happen you ensure that it does. “Insure” is defensive – if you want to prevent something from happening you insure against it.

    Regarding affect and effect, I think of them in a similar fashion. Affect is the proactive – it helps decide the outcome. Effect is the opposite – it IS the outcome.

    I realize these are generalized but whatever helps with proper usage is good, eh?

  2. John said,

    I know this is from 2008, but still useful ! Thanks …

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